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Stop Making Women Apologize

Fri, 2019-03-15 15:44

I was getting on a bus with grocery bags in hand, apologizing profusely to the driver as I scrambled to find my bus pass.

He curiously looked my way; I thought he was judging me as I convincingly portrayed the damsel in distress. To my relief, however, he actually smiled and said, “It’s ok, ma’am. There is no need to apologize.”

I reflected on the driver’s kindness as his words began to sink in: “There is no need to apologize.” He was right. I wasn’t holding anyone up or causing any problems, yet I still felt the need to say, “I’m sorry.”

For many women, offering an apology is second nature. In a country where women have been traditionally cast in the role of “appeaser,” asking forgiveness has been ingrained into our DNA.

It’s something we’re taught at an early age — to be nice and polite as all young girls should be, reinforcing gender norms that began at this country’s inception.

Our culture is one that silences women in order to uphold patriarchy. “I’m sorry” has become a fillerin the English language. Whether asking for what we need, or stating our opinion, women often begin with an apology for having the audacity to speak at all.

A study done in 2010 confirmed that women apologize more than men. The research speculated that women were “more concerned with the emotional experiences of others” — no doubt a symptom of our socialization.

In 2014, Pantene put out an ad campaign entitled “Not Sorry,” which highlighted the various ways women issue apologies almost immediately in most settings — at work, at home, even with strangers.

It seems no matter how far we’ve come in the era of #MeToo, women are expected to deflect, give excuse, and provide explanation with just two simple words: “I’m sorry.”

Holding oneself accountable for genuine wrongdoing should be the norm. For women, however, our “wrongdoing” is often simply our attempts to take up space and have a seat at the table.

To remain “collegial,” for example, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was apologetic throughout her entire testimony against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She was testifying about a sexual assault against her, yet she was the one apologizing.

More recently, Rep. Rashida Tlaib was cornered into an apology after accusing Rep. Mark Meadows of tokenizing a Black staffer by calling her out to stand next to him, as though this meant Republicans weren’t racist. Tlaib was right, but she was the one expected to apologize.

The role of “appeaser” has always been imposed upon us, especially women of color who navigate a society stacked against both our race and our gender. God help us if we break this unspoken protocol; we’re often punished for it.

Remember Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open?

Serena was penalized, fined, and attacked in the media for “inappropriate behavior” after arguing with an umpire during the match (behavior longtime tennis fans considered quite mild when compared to hotheaded male players like John McEnroe).

But more egregious than these male displays, apparently, was that this talented Black woman demanded an apology from the umpire for unfair treatment. (What’s more, Serena’s opponent, Naomi Osaka, apologized herself after the match — “I am so sorry it ended like this,” she said. She couldn’t even celebrate her victory.)

It was a classic example of how women are expected to carry emotional weight. I say no more.

For Women’s History Month, stop making us apologize. We are not here to appease. Our contributions to society prove our equal standing in society. We will no longer apologize for demanding equal liberties — it’s 2019, and we’re not sorry.

Categories: News for progressives

To Clean Up the Planet, Clean Up DC First

Fri, 2019-03-15 15:43

Raw log export docks, Astoria, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For decades, majorities of Americans have favored swift, meaningful action on climate change. They understand that we must transition away from dirty fuels and toward clean, renewable energy. Yet despite this overwhelming support, Congress has repeatedly failed to act.

This jarring disconnect between what the public wants to see and what Washington is prepared to deliver doesn’t just threaten the health and safety of everyone in our country — it undermines the very principle of representative democracy.

The reason that Congress hasn’t acted is an open secret.

Follow the trail of the millions of dollars in campaign contributions from corporate polluters over the years, and you’ll find countless lawmakers who’ve worked to block action on climate change. The special interests that are hostile to our environment have designed a sophisticated toolkit for furthering their narrow agenda, while avoiding accountability.

This assault on our democracy must end.

That’s why the new House majority passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act — a bold suite of reforms that will transform our government and our political system for the better.

Every provision of the bill is guided by one overarching imperative: restore the power and the voice of Americans who for too long have felt locked out of their own democracy.

First, H.R. 1 will push back hard against the influence of big money in our politics. That means bringing more transparency to the world of campaign finance so that polluters can no longer use shadowy organizations to hide their political spending.

In addition, by building a new system of citizen-owned elections that amplifies the power of small donors, H.R. 1 will reduce the financial influence of PACs and big corporations. The result will be environmental policy made for the public interest, not the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

Second, H.R. 1 will make sure that public officials serve the public, not themselves or some hidden group of industry patrons.

The bill extends conflict of interest rules to presidents and vice presidents and requires the release of their tax returns. It will prohibit members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and establish a code of ethics for the justices of the Supreme Court. And it will end the practice of corporations giving giant bonuses to employees who join the regulatory agencies overseeing them.

With strong disclosure rules and accountability provisions, it will prevent ethical corruption of the kind that defined Scott Pruitt and undermined the mission of the EPA

Third, H.R. 1 will protect every citizen’s right to vote and tear down barriers to the ballot box. That will help Americans send lawmakers to Washington who will act on climate, protect our environment, and make our air safe to breathe and our water safe to drink.

That means promoting national automatic voter registration, expanding early and absentee voting, ending voter roll purging, and providing relief from discriminatory voter ID laws.

H.R. 1 also ensures the integrity of our elections by committing Congress to build a record of voter suppression that demonstrates the need to restore the Voting Rights Act, ending partisan gerrymandering, and safeguarding our election infrastructure from interference.

With H.R. 1, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to clean up Washington, make our democratic process more fair and inclusive, and insist that Congress respond to the will of the many, not the money. Doing so will remove long standing barriers that have slowed and blunted climate action.

John Sarbanes is a member of congress from Maryland.

Michael Brune serves as executive director of the Sierra Club. 

Categories: News for progressives

India’s Agrarian Crisis: Dismantling ‘Development’

Fri, 2019-03-15 15:43

In his 1978 book ‘India Mortgaged’, T.N. Reddy predicted the country would one day open all sectors to foreign direct investment and surrender economic sovereignty to imperialist powers.

Today, the US and Europe cling to a moribund form of capitalism and have used various mechanisms to bolster the system in the face of economic stagnation and massive inequalities: the raiding of public budgets, the expansion of credit to consumers and governments to sustain spending and consumption, financial speculation and increased militarism. Via ‘globalisation’, Western powers have also been on an unrelenting drive to plunder what they regard as ‘untapped markets’ in other areas of the globe.

Agricapital has been moving in on Indian food and agriculture for some time. But India is an agrarian-based country underpinned by smallholder agriculture and decentralised food processing. Foreign capital therefore first needs to displace the current model before bringing India’s food and agriculture sector under its control. And this is precisely what is happening.

Western agribusiness is shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India. Over 300,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GMO) cash crops and economic liberalisation.

Other sectors have not been immune to this bogus notion of development. Millions of people have been displaced to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other large-scale projects. And the full military backing of the state has been on hand to forcibly evict people, place them in camps and inflict human rights abuses on them.

To help open the nation to foreign capital, proponents of economic neoliberalism are fond of stating that ‘regulatory blockages’ must be removed. If particular ‘blockages’ stemming from legitimate protest, rights to land and dissent cannot be dealt with by peaceful means, other methods are used. And when increasing mass surveillance or widespread ideological attempts to discredit and smear does not secure compliance or dilute the power of protest, brute force is on hand.

India’s agrarian crisis

India is currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) agricapital and the running down of the existing system of agriculture. Millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are suffering economic distress as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them.

At the same time, the country’s spurt of GDP growth – the holy grail of ‘development’ – has largely been fuelled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head of population than it did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, unlike farmers, corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans but have failed to spur job creation.

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and remaining farmers will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

US agribusiness corporations are spearheading the process, the very companies that fuel and thrive on a five-year US taxpayer-funded farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion. Their industrial model in the US is based on the overproduction of certain commodities often sold at prices below the cost of production and dumped on the rest of the world, thereby undermining farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture in other countries.

It is a model designed to facilitate the needs and profits of these corporations which belong to the agritech, agrichemicals, commodity trading, food processing and retail sectors. A model that can only survive thanks to taxpayer handouts and by subsidising the farmer who is squeezed at one end by seed and agrochemical manufacturers and at the other, by powerful retail interests. A model that can only function by externalising its massive health, environmental and social costs. And a model that only leads to the destruction of rural communities and jobs, degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and poor health.

If we look at the US model, it serves the needs of agribusiness corporations and large-scale retailers, not farmers, the public nor the environment. So by bowing to their needs via World Bank directives and the US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, what is the future to be for India?

A mainly urbanised country reliant on an industrial agriculture and all it entails, including denutrified food, increasingly monolithic diets, the massive use of agrochemicals and food contaminated by hormones, steroids, antibiotics and a range of chemical additives. A country with spiralling rates of ill health, degraded soil, a collapse in the insect population, contaminated and depleted water supplies and a cartel of seed, chemical and food processing companies with ever-greater control over the global food production and supply chain.

But we don’t need a crystal ball to look into the future. Much of the above is already taking place, not least the destruction of rural communities, the impoverishment of the countryside and continuing urbanisation, which is itself causing problems for India’s crowded cities and eating up valuable agricultural land.

So why would India want to let the foxes guard the hen house? Why mimic the model of intensive, chemical-dependent agriculture of the US and be further incorporated into a corrupt US-dominated global food regime that undermines food security and food sovereignty? After all, numerous high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies.

Yet the trend in India continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational players.

The plan is to shift hundreds of millions from the countryside into the cities to serve as a cheap army of labour for offshored foreign companies, mirroring what China has become: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, rural migrants are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs. Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as jobless ‘growth’ seems to have arrived as the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

If we look at the various Western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to in order to ‘modernise’ the country’s food and agriculture, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialism. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared?

Fuelled by capitalism’s compulsion to overproduce and then seek out new markets, the same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda: terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ embody little more than the tenets of neoliberal fundamentalism wrapped in benign-sounding words. It boils down to one thing: Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations will decide on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed.

Alternatives to development

Current policies seek to tie agriculture to an environmentally destructive, moribund system of capitalism. Practical solutions to the agrarian crisis must be based on sustainable agriculture which places the small farmer at the centre of policies: far-sighted and sustained policy initiatives centred on self-sufficiency, localisation, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and agroecology.

The scaling up of agroecological approaches should be a lynchpin of genuine rural development. Other measures involve implementing land reforms, correcting rigged trade, delinking from capitalist globalisation (capital controls) and managing foreign trade to suit smallholder farmers’ interests not those of foreign agricapital.

More generally, there is the need to recognise that genuine sustainable agriculture can only be achieved by challenging power relations, especially resisting the industrial model of agriculture being rolled out by powerful agribusiness corporations and the neoliberal policies that serve their interests.

What is required is an ‘alternative to development’ as post-development theorist Arturo Escobar explains:

“Because seven decades after World War II, certain fundamentals have not changed. Global inequality remains severe, both between and within nations. Environmental devastation and human dislocation, driven by political as well as ecological factors, continues to worsen. These are symptoms of the failure of “development,” indicators that the intellectual and political post-development project remains an urgent task.”

Looking at the situation in Latin America, Escobar says development strategies have centred on large-scale interventions, such as the expansion of oil palm plantations, mining, and large port development.

And it is similar in India: commodity monocropping; immiseration in the countryside; the appropriation of biodiversity, the means of subsistence for millions of rural dwellers; unnecessary and inappropriate environment-destroying, people-displacing infrastructure projects; and state-backed violence against the poorest and most marginalised sections of society.

These problems, says Escobar, are not the result of a lack of development but of ‘excessive development’. Escobar looks towards the worldviews of indigenous peoples and the inseparability and interdependence of humans and nature for solutions.

He is not alone. Writers Felix Padel and Malvika Gupta argue that adivasi (India’s indigenous peoples) economics may be the only hope for the future because India’s tribal cultures remain the antithesis of capitalism and industrialisation. Their age-old knowledge and value systems promote long-term sustainability through restraint in what is taken from nature. Their societies also emphasise equality and sharing rather than hierarchy and competition.

These principles must guide our actions regardless of where we live on the planet because what’s the alternative? A system driven by narcissism, domination, ego, anthropocentrism, speciesism and plunder. A system that is using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have poisoned the rivers and oceans, destroyed natural habitats, driven wildlife species to (the edge of) extinction and have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere to the point that runaway climate change seems more and more likely.

And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources, while nuclear missiles hand over humanity’s head like a sword of Damocles.

Categories: News for progressives

Uniting the Fringe Against the Center

Fri, 2019-03-15 15:42

Watching the news lately, you get the impression that the world is being ripped in two by the scourge of the far-right and the far-left. Populism they call it. Warring tribes in a binary war for the soul of the free world. In the US, Our dear orange Pericles is scheming mightily to manipulate the already unconstitutional powers of executive privilege to follow through with his promise to militarize the commons at the boarder. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is in virtual upheaval over how to contain a 5-foot-2 congresswoman for making the “antisemitic” observation that perhaps Israel has too much influence over Washington while the rest of the party keep McCarthyism alive with their own Russophobic “tropes”.

Across Europe and many other parts of the world, you here a similar tale of the populist left and/or the populist right going too far in one direction or the other, many times both simultaneously in an act of sociopolitical fission. You also hear a great collective wail from the established order who still maintain control over the press and the permanent government, lamenting the untimely demise of globalism and an ill-defined sense of pragmatism among the holy Neos, both liberal and conservative. These heavily microphoned scions of the status quo would have you believe that the world was in perfect harmony before the 2008 financial crash that they and their order precipitated with the bipartisan pillage of the world’s financial resources. In times like these the Ivy League appointed intellectual hierarchy of corporate thinktankland like to blow the dust off that old time honored canard of Jean-Pierre Faye’s Horseshoe Theory. The idea that, when push comes to shove, the far-right and the far-left are like two ends of a horseshoe, nearly meeting each other ideologically in the middle.

Being a militant contrarian panarchist, I have some very mixed feelings about this philosophy. On the one hand, there is a part of me that wants to embrace this radical panic. I’ve long contended that dismantling the police-warfare state is an effort best left to a collaboration between the radical left and the libertarian right that today’s wave of populists pretend to represent. On the other hand, the entire left-right spectrum strikes me as inherently reductionist and almost childishly over simplistic. Just like gender and sexuality, politics and philosophy are far too complex to be reduced to such bipolar classifications. I prefer to think of this sociopolitical zeitgeist as a circle, rather than the brutish horseshoe.

It’s hard for any well studied student of history to deny that certain elements of the far-right and far-left have a great deal of under-explored common ground. As a post-Marxist social anarchist who prizes anti-imperialism and freedom of speech above all else, I find myself in agreement with paleolibertarians like Ron Paul far more often than I do milquetoast progressives like Elizabeth Warren. This isn’t because Ron and me have near identical values, far from it. It’s because we both exist on the outer ring of the sociopolitical circle, with the established order at the center. We exist on what is commonly referred to as the fringe of society, a renegade outback populated by misfits as far-flung as Christian patriots and genderfuck evangelists. Considering the current state of society; endless foreign interventions, two-party gang warfare, economic cannibalism, this maligned outsider status no longer feels like a pejorative. Anarchists, socialists, paleos and libertarians stand far enough from ground zero of the mainstream political circle to recognize the source of these problems and it isn’t us.

With all the dewy eyed hymns being sung by the aging patriarchs of the Fourth Estate, you would be forgiven for forgetting that the most grotesque foibles of the West have almost exclusively been the byproducts of the triumph of bipartisan centrism. Vietnam, Iraq, NAFTA, CAFTA, the War on Drugs, the Prison Industrial Complex, all the poisoned fruits of cooperation among neoliberals and neoconservatives on the center-left and center-right, respectively. The chaos of our current era is the result of the rule of the very system Time Magazine and CNN propose as a solution. Barking populist demagogues like Bernie and Trump aren’t solutions either. With the desperate top-bottom statist overreach of border walls and corporatist green new deals, these are the bastard children of a system that they’re using extreme measures to preserve. These men are opportunistic pied pipers leading well intentioned fringeists back into the never-never-land of centrist purgatory. Their siren songs should be ignored at all cost by anyone thirsty for truly substantial change.

The only real change that swamp creatures like Trump and Bernie truly represent is a division within their circle on how to best preserve it. These populist squabbles may be the contractions of this systems long overdue miscarriage. But they could use a little help from the abortion clinics of the fringe. If the malignant center could achieve such heights of mass destruction working together than why not the disparate forces who reject its hegemony? Why are we wasting perfectly good Molotov cocktails on each other when the cop cars are wide open between us? We need to take note of our priorities. If you are determined to reign in the police state and snuff out the fires of eternal warfare, then I say that you’re my ally, regardless of what you think of my gender identity or how to provide people with adequate healthcare. I honestly believe that there are good kids both in Antifa and MAGA hats who would agree with this sentiment if they weren’t so damn distracted by their preferred cults of personality and the scapegoats they conjure. We need to get these kids woke enough to look across the center and realize that a true revolution can never be waged from within it.

The center had their turn, dearest motherfuckers. They shit the bed and I for one have no intention of cleaning it alone. Fuck the center and unite the fringe.

Categories: News for progressives

Displacement and Ethnic Conflict in New Ethiopia

Fri, 2019-03-15 15:40

Fundamental political reforms are underway in Ethiopia, but as the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed and his government work to bring about change in the country, historic ethnic divisions have erupted. Dozens of people have been killed, many more injured and over a million people displaced since April 2018 due to rising ethnic violence. The total number of internally displaced persons, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) exceeds two million, this is a major test for the government, and to date little has been done for people driven from their homes.

While other groups have been involved in the clashes, much of the violence has been attributed to men from Oromia. Young men who, Al Jazeera report, have also been accused of looting and destroying property, as well as taking new homes in the capital which had been allocated to other citizens by dint of a ballot

Ethnic identity

With around 80 tribal groups and a population of 105 million people (growing at an alarming rate of 2.5% per annum), 70% of who are under 30, the demographic make up of Ethiopia is diverse and complex.

The Oromo, who are mainly Muslim, constitute the largest ethnic group with 35% of the population spread over a large region of the country; followed by the Amhara (Orthodox Christian) with 27%, and against who the Oromo have fought numerous wars. Many Ethiopians identify themselves more strongly with their tribal group than their nationality; ethnic clans have their own dialect and traditions, and are deeply attached to specific areas of the country. Tribal identities die hard and, together with stories of past conflicts and injustices, are passed down the centuries from parent to child.

In the early 19th Century Oromo monarchies ruled over large parts of central and southern Ethiopia, however for generations since the Oromo have complained of economic, cultural and political marginalization at the hands of governments led by politicians from other ethnic groups; most recently a brutal gang from the Tigray region who formed The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the ruling EPRDF coalition that ruled from 1991 until April 2018.

Under the TPLF regime the Oromo people, like other ethnic groups, including the Amhara and ethnic Somali, were persecuted, falsely arrested, tortured and murdered, women raped. Amnesty International published a report in 2014 entitled, ‘Because I Am Oromo: Sweeping Repression in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia’, in which they stated “that thousands of Oromo people were “being ruthlessly targeted by the state based solely on their perceived opposition to the government…dozens of actual or suspected dissenters have been killed.”  There is no question that the Oromo were persecuted by the TPLF, but with the exception of people from Tigray, they suppressed the whole country. The danger now is that some Oromo may have revenge in their minds and feel protected by an Oromo Prime minister.

Long held Anger

One of the first actions undertaken by PM Ahmed was to dismiss all TPLF ministers, and, as Foreign Policy states, to arrest “a number of top military and intelligence officials – many from the ethnic Tigrayan community on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.” A new (gender equal) cabinet was agreed, predominantly populated by men and women from the same ethnic group as the new PM – Oromia.

Oromo people, particularly young Oromo men played a key part in the protest movement that swept across the country from 2015, culminating in the collapse of the previous regime. Now, for the first time, they have an Oromo government. The election of PM Ahmed was met with cries of ‘we won’ from Oromo people; the reaction revealed their feeling that the movement to bring about a change of government was an ethnically centered political uprising, something the rest of the population, many of who were involved in the protest actions would not agree with.

The change of government – the Oromo ‘victory’, seems to have allowed years of anger and resentment to come to the surface, and as Felix Horne of Human Rights Watch makes clear, since the new PM took office, “the ethno-nationalist narrative is much more dominant than it used to be … a lot of the young Oromo’s are not willing to take ‘second place.”

This sense of entitlement is extremely dangerous, it is part of an ‘Oromo First’ approach being promoted by certain influential Oromo’s and is a key factor in the recent ethnic clashes. Expectations of what the new government should do for the Oromo community is high: A group of young Oromo men told Reuters what they want: That the rights (including land rights as they see them) of Oromo’s are respected, support for poor Oromo families, an end to corruption and unfair land deals, dignity, and more generally, “freedom and justice, economic opportunity, jobs, democracy and free and fair elections.” In addition the Oromo stake a claim to the capital, Addis Ababa, which occupies an administrative island of autonomy within Oromia land. People from various ethnic groups populate the city, with the largest number, around half being Amhara. It is the capital for the whole country, and should not be associated with any one particular ethnic group.

Social unity

Under the previous regime a policy of Ethnic Federalism was introduced, the 1994 Constitution divided the country into nine ethnic regions together with two federally administered states: rights to land, employment and higher education was determined by ethnic identity; schools taught in ethnic dialects, tribal loyalties were strengthened, divisions aggravated and national unity, which was already fragile, weakened. Economic disparities between the regions caused ethnic competition and resentment, calls for succession were made by groups in the Ogaden/Somali region and Oromia and hardline ethnic political parties strengthened.

The new government and leaders of the main opposition parties – all of which are ethnically rooted, are spouting the rhetoric of unity and reconciliation, this is encouraging but by itself is not enough. The PM needs to take a lead in bringing about a shift in thinking, one that acknowledges differences, celebrates tribal culture and heritage, but also inculcates a sense of national identity, community tolerance and broad social responsibility.

Strong support networks exist within extended families in Ethiopia, but there is a lack of wider social engagement and civic responsibility. The cultivation of and investment in a vibrant civil society to support those in need, whatever their ethnicity, would help to break down ethnic divisions and foster an environment of compassion and tolerance; a collective atmosphere in which neighbors, workmates, students etc. are no longer seen through a prism of ethnicity, but simply as fellow human beings, Ethiopians all.

Tribal nationalism is on the rise throughout the world; an ethnically rooted country like Ethiopia is fertile ground for such extremism and all efforts must be made to build unity. Ethnic tensions and the huge number of internally displaced people is the first real test of PM Ahmed’s government; those that have been forced from their homes need to be supported and re-settled as a matter of urgency and measures taken to ensure that ethnic violence is dealt with as a criminal act, whilst introducing methods that encourage social cohesion. Building a united, tolerant country is essential if the new government is to succeed in introducing democracy to Ethiopia and creating peaceful integrated communities.

Categories: News for progressives

The Democratrepublican’s Carnivorial Tent

Fri, 2019-03-15 15:37

Two parties, my ass!

There is one political party which is allowed to operate in the ever-moving, privately owned, carnivorial tent known as the “republic” of the United States of America. This operation has no allegiance to any geographic or spiritual location. Any and all locations are seen primarily as possible sources of monetary income and incoming money is the justifier (sic) and instigator of any deception which is deemed necessary at any given time. Yes, the chief method employed has always involved getting the suckers to fall for the pretense that there is something especially “exceptional” about each and every physical location or supposed spiritual intent where the numerous barkers in the carnivorial tent position themselves to distract the suckers from the fact that the predatory drive for pilfering private profits will leave every location more debased and more toxic when the barkers and their enthused crowds “move on.”

The chief barker within the tent today is Donald Trump. It is widely and wildly insisted that he is the most “exceptional” example of every trait of barkerisms. To a large portion of the population, he is the personification of everything “exceptional”ly bad and to another massive number of the population he is the personification of “exceptional” human possibilities under the shared democratrepublican capitalist carnivorial tent.

The tent which covers operations is maintained through mandatory fees which are imposed globally. It is the desire to get under the cover of the tent which unites the crowds. Everyone pays extra to be within the tent. The tent provide a restrictive cover for the intense feelings of insecurity and is designed to keep everyone’s attention focussed of the possibility of making a private monetary killing. Making a killing is believed to be the highest form of liberty. Whoops of joy at winning and accusations of fraudulent scheming in a rigged game erupt consistently from within the tent as the tent shifts and swaggers over the rotting bodies of the inevitable victims who fall under the manipulated movements of the crowded suckers who are desperately maneuvering to be in close proximity to the manipulative power of the barkers. Optimism is mandatory while doubts and suspicions are grounds for removal.

Two-faced clowns with megaphones on corporately labelled stilts manipulate the attention of the suckers with snide mumbles, sweetly-laced “identity” pandering, and distracting patriotic singing which eventually lead to proudly celebratory chanting of “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom!”

Professional pickpockets are abundant and their patting on backs leaves a temporary feeling of recognition and wellbeing – unless your wallet is too heavy to lift. Then, the warming arms and armaments are used to maintain an extended embrace of your possibility as a benefactor of the carnivorial tent and you are guided into closer proximity to the barkers.

Occasionally, (or is it Ocasio-ly?) voices arise temporarily which seem to try to get the crowd to move within the tent in a more egalitarian manner. These voices tend to be restricted to the periphery and they regularly fade away in futility. Study the clean parallel between Kucinich and Sanders. It is clear that their message is in opposition to the chief purpose of the tent. They have also paid the extra costs to gain access to the operations within the tent. They insist that being anywhere outside is a waste of time and they work to steer the crowd toward their preferred predatory barkers, even, or especially, after they get a stab in the back. They prefer the barkers with sweeter voices because they know how the crowd desires the “hope and change” of losing more with sweeter delusions. They confidently remind the crowd that if you are not trying to participate in the increasingly mandated gambling within the tent then you are not capable of being perceived as authentic and you will not be trusted by those they reinforce as being the necessary authorities.

Perception by others is one of the biggest thrills to the participants in the carnivorial tent. To insiders, nothing you do will ever matter as much as your ability to manipulate how you are perceived by other suckers within the tent and how you are perceived doesn’t matter as much as does your proximity to the barkers who manipulate the crowd. This is the aura of the shell game. It is theatrically lit with disingenuousness. Words and life are of variable value and money talks with real value. This is the central belief of democrats and republicans and their global allies and this may be why they both misguidedly, arrogantly, and stupidly worked so hard to put Trump in his current position. Few people represent the influence of money upon the brain better than does a vain, crude vacancy like Trump. Of course it is reasoned that something like a Clinton or Biden crudity would also be a delight to huge numbers of the suckers.

In this supposed 21st Century of christian delusions, the swaggering global movements of the carnivorial tent has reached a degree of swaying wherein the use of the pretense of opposition has become a great unifier for the most dominant of nationalistic religiosities around the planet. Moneymaking militarism abounds and unifies the lack of integrity – which is widely cherished by the various devotedly “pragmatist” mentalities – with the movements and operations of the restricting tent and its shell game of/for private profits. The Pelosifying platitudes of smug complacency are insidiously putrefying the suckers. So delicate, so vapid, so invidious.

The seemingly rampant belief in the accumulation of money as the chief manifestation of some god’s grace has led to the repeated torturous and torturing infliction of destruction under the delusion of righteousness in more and more locations.

Today, the intoxicated swaggering is on the verge of destroying its deliberately hamstrung Venezuela (the owners of the tent believe that they should own all) and there are glaringly unified attempts across the lack of a supposed spectrum which are offering hints of justification for the carnivorial agenda. The barkers want us to ignore the history of their own devious manipulations to isolate and sabotage Venezuela and that they prefer to focus blame on Maduro. Here AGAIN we have a singular bad guy presented to us who, the barkers tell us, is forcing them to savage and destroy millions of people’s lives. This is the barkers’ shared idea of humanitarianism.

The are no mirrors allowed within the tent. Reflecting is believed to be a devious behavior within the tent, but echoing and chanting previously used word-sounds is a highly regarded method of gaining more attention. The array of would-be chief barkers under the democrat guise will, no doubt, work like a charm to keep their democratrepublican tent in a robust swagger from deceit to delusion.

If you identify as a democrat or a republican (including libertarian), you are part of the problem and you are not helping people leave the carnivorial status quo. You are probably not being deliberately sadistic, but you are helping to keep the now global tent on its ever-expanding hellish journey.

Sure, I am a damned fool, who isn’t? I cannot allow myself to, or encourage anyone else to, participate in the blood-drenched shell game which you, either blindly or cynically, seem to think is a proof of your agency. Look in a mirror. if you do not see over 500,000 dead babies in Iraq (and many more beyond that) as part of your democratrepublican reflection, then I can only assume that you think such horrors are “worth it” for you to have access to the barkers’ rigged gambling schemes and power plays. Roosevelt’s aphorism that, “All we have to fear is fear itself ” is clearly now dated and misleading. No – unwarranted confidence can and has proven to be equally dangerous and anyone who confidently promotes the religiosity of capitalism without demanding socialistic restrictions is a delusional manipulator at best.

I am ashamed of my previous participation within your bloody tent and there is nothing your barkers can say which has credibility and can distract me from the facts of what you support in your misrepresentations of yourselves. There is only one way to begin to be opposed to the horror show which insiders are currently enabling. Restricting pressure must be applied from outside. Asking for the weakest statement of “No confidence” seems to be asking for too much from those infected by the fearful dread of integrity which is central to both democrats and republicans.

The democratrepublican tent is laced with desperate toxicity, The longer you stay inside and try to make it look more appealing, the farther you will remove yourself from integrity and the more harm you will impose on those who are more vulnerable.

Categories: News for progressives

Bach in Chico

Fri, 2019-03-15 14:39

Ruins of the Salvation Army store in Paradise. Photo: David Yearsley.

From Stanford University in Palo Alto, California northwest to the State University of California at Chico it’s a neat 200 miles—the kind of distance the young Bach would have covered on foot. He certainly wouldn’t have done it in a late model Subaru cadged from a friend with FastTrak for the tolls, feet-freeing cruise control, and a pretty decent sound system.  When the young Bach wasn’t using his feet at the organ, he was walking distances both long and short—a topic I’ll have to more say about next week in a review of a recent book that follows in the footsteps of his 1705 hike from Arnstadt in central Germany to Lübeck on the Baltic Set.

Bach, I like to think, preferred to make a journey himself rather than be transported as quickly as possible, though as a poor orphan and young organist committed more to self-improvement than professional advance (though the desires weren’t exclusive of one another), he didn’t have much choice. Like most young men of his lowly social station, he probably owned just one pair of shoes for organ playing and for slogging through the mud. He was a journeyman, literally and figuratively.

Of the two institutions of higher learning mentioned above—the one vastly rich and getting vastly richer every minute, the other reliant on state funds—is Chico State that does far more to stoke the Bach legacy. For nearly forty years the university has hosted a vibrant Bach Festival. It lasts but a few days, its events vigorously attended by enthusiasts, amateurs, musicians, and the generally interested. This year there were many kids in attendance, and their grandparents, too.

The Chico Bach Festival is not a huge, overly extravagant affair of passion concerts and other massed masterworks, aided and abetted (and sometimes hindered) by gaggles of scholars expounding on the intricacies of their own research and the cosmic consequences of Bach’s genius. In this edition of the festival there were three excellent concerts, though I’ll have to recuse myself from rating the last of them—an organ concert in which I was joined by Annette Richards. Programmed around Bach family duets, some erudite and some merely entertaining, we played our own solos: there were pieces by the Bach’s sons, complemented by the father’s beloved settings of some of his favorite cantata movements known as Schübler Chorales. The recital (and the festival) concluded with Annette presenting the vaulting, francophone, never-resolving-and-seemingly-endless chains of harmonies of his Pièce d’Orgue.That frenchfied title is coupled with the composer styled as the Italian Giov[anni] Sebast[iano] Bach in contemporary manuscript copies of the piece. As these polyglot title pages suggest, this Bach had cosmopolitan ambitions, indeed he produced the most internationally-minded music of the European baroque and did so without ever leaving his native Germany. He spent his life in a band of territory and towns of the German hills and forests about one hundred miles long—roughly the distance from Chico to the state capital in Sacramento. Bach made a couple of sojourns north, about as far, say, as the Oregon border. He learned these European musical languages without ever leaving home, creating things in these tongues that native speakers could never have imagined. Bach’s music spans a continent, and now a world.

Bach’s universality explodes preconceptions about parochialism. In that same spirit, the Chico Bach Festival is small town music in the best sense of the concept, admittedly an elastic one since the city’s population is nearly 90,000, three times larger than that of the commercial and university center that was Leipzig when Bach lived there for almost three decades in the first half of the eighteenth century.

This time around there were three Chico concerts. The intermezzo known as the Coffee Cantata was sponsored by a local coffeehouse, which offered the attendees their brew laced with fine cocoa, German style. Leipzig was a city full of such establishments, and so is Chico.

In a division of labor that Bach and his spouse would have recognized, indeed practiced, Dara Scholz, multi-talented wife of the festival director, sang the part of Liesgen with baritone Ryan Downey in the role of the bumbling father, Schlendrian. I missed the performance, but the reactions of attendees I spoke with were ecstatic.

Liesgen is a caffeine addict. Schlendrian forbids the wanton consumerism this addiction represents. She purports to give up the bitter bean when her father makes it a condition of him finding her a husband. But in the end Liesgen connives, unbeknownst to Schlendrian, to have her right to coffee written into the marriage contract.

The original plan had been to stage this fizzing comic entertainment done outside, just as Bach might well have done in the Leipzig coffeehouse’s summer garden where he led many musical performances. But the California spring has been wet and rainy, the Sacramento River swollen so much that our GPS-chosen route to Chico ran into much confusion because of flooding.

The almond trees were in blossom, the weeds between the mono-culture rows and the hills beyond as vibrantly green as they’ve rarely been in recent years. The camellias were out, but for the Coffee Cantata the performers and audience were inside with their cocoa-spiked coffee.

On Saturday morning there were classes for local singers, string players, and organists, and an afternoon lecture called “Bach Laughs” delivered by your correspondent, the Musical Patriot. On Saturday night Sacramento’s Sinfonia Spirtuoso—as spirited as its name suggests—was led from the harpsichord by director Lorna Peters in a program of instrumental music by Georg Philipp Telemann and his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.  Supported by this buoyant and precise period instrument band, baroque flutist Cathie Apple sallied through a Telemann concerto with poise and panache, and baroque bassoonist David Wells delivered his conversational lines in a C. P. E. Bach trio with understated humor and tasteful verve. Interleaved with these instrumental works were a trio of tenor arias sung by Derek Chester. Lifted from their original context in the church service, this music of suffering and salvation took on a pastoral lightness, though there were lacerating thorns in the meadows, the pain and beauty of the wounds and worries portrayed with earnest assuredness and pathos by this talented, intelligent singer and his sympathetic accompanists.

The small modern hall was well filled, but not as packed as Chico itself. The city’s population has swelled by as much as 20,000 since the Camp Fire of last fall. We were put up in the Marriott Residence Inn on the edge of town—also an elastic concept in America since there are hardly such edges anymore, just vaguely demilitarized, deindustrialized sprawl zones.  From the Residence Inn you could easily walk a few minutes to both a Lowe’s and a Home Depot—if you dared to brave the four-plus lanes of State Highway 99 and other hazards life-threatening to pedestrians.

There was hardly room left in the Residence Inn for Bach tourists like us. The motel remains provisional home to scores of refugees from Paradise a dozen miles to the west. Long-term residents since last November’s fire walk their dogs out front in the parking lot crammed with cars. Families divided between rooms shuttle down long corridors with their funky geometric carpeting to say good night.  Eight-year-old kids really know their way around the breakfast buffet.

Late on Friday, we signed into the motel at the front desk. The receptionist had been evicted from her rental apartment because it had to be taken back by the owners, their house in Paradise having been destroyed. She had found another room in town on the internet, but the owner had several cats and she was very allergic to them.  The receptionist said she was thankful for what she had and eager to help those with nothing left.

Sunday morning before our afternoon concert we drove up the Skyway to Paradise. The road runs ruthlessly down the middle of a magnificent ridge with deep canyons on either side carved by Butte Creek to the north and the West Branch of the Feather River to the south. The Skyway represents the classic American way of interacting with the landscape: ram a four-lane road down the middle of a geological marvel.  It’s not the place to be in a motorized exodus from catastrophe.

In this wet spring all is green is on the Skyway until just past an enclave called Spanish Gardens  eight miles up the grade. Its palm trees were untouched by the blaze. Just beyond this point whole developments are gone, the carnage removed and paved over.  The Alliance Church (“Hope is Rising” proclaim the bill boards along the roadside) and the realtors haven’t given up, nor the lawyers advertising their eagerness to represent victims of the fire.  Spring’s hope is eternal—until the fires start coming this side of the vernal equinox.

Ignoring the apocalyptic message of last fall, the realtors are open for business even on the sabbath. It would be a miracle if the boom that swelled Paradise’s population in the years leading up to the fire can be conjured again.

The biggest architectural irony is that the smoke shop—Paradise Smokes—appears to have been spared. The Adventists hospital has been rebuilt.  There are a couple of cafés, the realtors offices, but otherwise all is charred debris: cars, appliances, glass, tires, houses, solitary chimneys, stoic redwoods, and carbonized pine and oak.

We encounter only a couple of other cars. As they pass I feel guilty about taking pictures: the beginnings of eco-collapse-tourism.

The devastation is astonishing, impossible to get your mind around. A camera can’t take it in.

The downtown strip brings to mind Dresden, perhaps because our concert downin Chico is to be played on an instrument based on that most beautiful baroque city’s organs, all but one of them destroyed in the firestorm of February 1945.

In Dresden it was stone from the fallen, burned-out buildings that took decades to clear. The stucco and wood went up almost immediately. In Paradise the materials are lighter, but the clean-up will be an unfathomably enormous job.

Near the center of town the Salvation Army is gone but its banner promises return. In Paradise, salvage and salvation are more than simply cognates.


Categories: News for progressives

Jonas Mekas: In Conversation

Fri, 2019-03-15 14:15

Joans Mekas. Photo: Julian Vigo.

Mid December 2012, I was lucky enough to meet up with Jonas Mekas at the Serpentine Gallery in London. We sat down for a talk that I have never managed to transcribe or work on until now. And this fact has has niggled at me for many years. To be fair, I was heavily pregnant when we undertook this interview and the world was as tumultuous as my new residence in the UK as a scholar-filmmaker making inroads within a country whose class system was only faintly inscribed upon me through PBS and Dickens. The New York where I first met Mekas over twenty years earlier when I was barely an adult seemed a much more hospitable environment for a struggling filmmaker. Yet, it was here in London’s Hyde Park where I would finally sit down with the very person whose work as a filmmaker I long admired and whose pioneering of the Anthology Film Archives in New York’s East Village helped to buttress my film education. For me, the entire meeting seemed upside-down relative time given that I had seen Jonas over the years as a graduate student in New York City from the late 1980s and then later teaching at NYU and CUNY. In fact, along with NYU’s Avery Fisher Center for Music and Media, Theater 80 St. Marks, the Thalia and Thalia Soho, Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre, the Film Forum, and the MoMA’s Film Library, the Anthology Film Archives was a standard locus of my film education.

So, when I think of Mekas’ amazing film center, I can’t help but remember all the amazing films that hit my soul: Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) and the amazing works of Shirley Clarke, Joseph Cornell, Maya Deren, among many other independent artists whose work would otherwise have fallen into obscurity. The Anthology Film Archives was this place for me to see cinema which represented the production of film that I was making—film made on a shoestring and far from Hollywood budgets and whose subjects tended towards class conflict, economic struggle, and political justice, themes far from the interest of most commercial productions.

Realized in 1970 by filmmakers Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage, Anthology Film Archives was conceived to be a showcase for the “Essential Cinema Repertory collection” within its larger manifesto of film as art. The Archives’ Essential Cinema collection was “intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form.” Although the Essential Cinema project was never completed, it still serves as an excellent overview of cinema history with the Anthology Film Archives continuing its mission to screen cinema and offer avenues for new filmmakers to highlight their creations.

So when Jonas Mekas and I sat down to discuss the 2012-2013 Serpentine exhibition of his work, “Jonas Mekas: Survey of a Cinematic Lyricist,” we started in real life. Again, I was massively pregnant and just before meeting with Mekas, someone from the Serpentine had given me a plate of food which I was more than happy to devour.

Mekas: Don’t just sit and talk you know—you have something to eat. That’s the French part of friendship and spending time together.

Vigo: Do you think that we’re losing that part of our culture today?

Mekas: Yes, absolutely.

Vigo: Why do you think that is?

Mekas: Our civilization is not promoting human relationships and the conditions are not there anymore for not our being together. Our mechanical-industrial civilization is not the same as rural or older society when there was no television, no computers. Now, all that new technology takes our attention all the time, everywhere. Well, I mean human relationships which are still the most important thing that there is on this planet.

Vigo: True, but many people perceive cinema as a form of media as they would perceive, let’s say Facebook and Twitter. Yet, I view Facebook as a way of removing us from the social, creating a “false social” where people can talk with their thumbs superficially, but people don’t get together anymore. They talk about getting together, they talk about eating together, but they don’t really do it, as our society moves towards, I don’t know what end. Given this paradox of media today, how do you view new media in light of the the kind of media you create? Do you think there’s any kind of interplay between these two spaces of the real and the representational?

Mekas: Well, technology is still moving. I think we are both caught in civilization and within a technology of which we have lost control. Like we want to perfect more and more and more and more, which creates more technology, more dependence on technology. And then to continue to develop it, we must destroy the planet more and more. So I think at this point I think we are going towards a dead end, the way I see it. It’s strange that, we had an election in states and you know, nobody discussed these issues. Everybody think that everything is the economy, the economy. What will happen to that economy? They are talking about plans for 20 years, 30 years ahead. You know, all the crisis 10 years ahead, but that, they forget that in 10 years we may run out of water, we may run out of water and that the oceans will be higher and there will be completely different problems and different needs. The economy may become a secondary matter. Nobody discussed this during the election. It’s strange.

Vigo: Well was the secondary candidates, the independent candidates did, but they were sidelined by the media. In fact, neither main candidates discussed the people protesting, the Wall Street, you know, protestors who’ve been there for a year, which I found very interesting. Did you make it down to the protests this past year?

Mekas: Yes, you can see some pictures on my, website. I don’t know if you can look up on my website.

Vigo: Thank you. I will check that out then. I was very impressed by the pieces I saw downstairs, especially beginning with the photos of you as a young man. Sitting in front of the train with a hat with other people. It was very beautiful. And here we are, that was 1947?

Mekas: Yes. Interestingly from ‘46, ‘47 and ‘45.

Vigo: And how, how did you make your way over to New York?

Mekas: I was brought here by United Nations refugee organization and then dropped into New York. Yes. From just five years being in a displaced person camp after the war. I did not go to America by my own choice. I would have gone somewhere else probably. I was just dropped here luckily. I was to dropped to NewYork at a very good time just the beginning of huge changes in all of the arts and the excitement moving into the beat generation and then John Cage and then all the art happenings, theater and music and everything began changing by ‘55. And I was there in the middle of it. So I’m very happy that I was dropped in New York.

Vigo: As well as John Cage’s music and Merce Cunningham’s new dance company. So, how did you discover making cinema? Or rather, how did you find yourself amidst this culture of so many different artistic expressions?

Mekas: The cinema was also going through changes. And so, I found that many young people are ready where we’re trying to develop different kind of forms of cinema. They were not happy, not satisfied with the narrative, commercial simple-minded productions that they were going into different directions. So, they were influenced by other movements in the literature and arts like the trees, the more abstract expression is more “action painting.” These changes also affected the cinema. All art moved forward like into different and more open areas in all of the arts you want. In dance, you had Rainer. I arrived when a certain kind of classic period had ended and the dance of Martha Graham and Balanchine. It was great, but this was like a final statement on all of those developments in all of those arts, and then new ones were coming in. So that chapter was closed. I came at the end of one and the beginning of another. I came to New York.

Vigo: From Lithuania to New York—by boat?

Mekas: Yes, by the Army with 3,000 others.

Vigo: And you had brothers there as well? Did they stay back in Lithuania?

Mekas: I had five brothers: one brother came over and he ended up at Bard College. And he stayed there for twenty-five years where he created a film department and he ran it until he retired.

Vigo: So when I see your early images of the streets of Brooklyn from when you first arrived, what prompted you to film this? What brought you to the cinema?

Mekas: No clear answer can be given why one does in any of the arts, why one begins to dance or sing or do whatever. One gesture moves slowly—it’s not suddenly, slowly. At some point, you discover you are in the middle of it and you don’t even know how it all started. Especially in my case because I saw my first movies only when I was 15. There were no cinemas, no radio, no television, in my childhood. There were only songs. We sang our songs, that’s all.

Vigo: What are the films that you first saw that impressed you?

Mekas: Uh, nothing really impressed me until I came to New York. I did not see anything really that was any. I saw some movies that the American army brought over—just cheap, second rate, westerns. No masterpieces of cinema, no classics.

Vigo: And, when you got to New York?

Mekas: Well New York it was every day and every night classic film programs in the Museum of Modern Art. There were several film societies showing non-commercial, avant-garde cinema, classic cinema from the 20s, 30s and the new avant-garde that was emerging. New York was very alive.

Vigo: Your films seem to be influenced by, not a formalized documentary style, but there is an essence of a post-cinéma vérité in much of what you are filming at this time.

Mekas: Of course, the cinema back then. There were the documentaries which scripted cinema in the ’30s to the ’40s. Then cinéma vérité tried to avoid scripts but it was still guided by preconceived ideas even if there was no script—they went in to real life, but with certain ideas and what they want from it to pick up to show on television usually. And that is continuing today. Cinema techniques are used on television, uh, life drama and docu-dramas. It is a little bit scripted but some of is that much scripted. [laughing] And I began like this That’s all I knew, that’s all I had seen. But I had seen it in Hollywood, I had seen it right on a documentary like a British documentary was classic cinema for me until I came to New York and realized that are other possibilities—that cinema is a big tree with many other branches. Some of them are tiny and I met people, young people with cameras trying to develop those branches. Many windows suddenly opened with this thing called cinema. And that’s where I left the documentary and I transcended cinéma vérité and went into my own kind of dualistic personnel cinema.

Vigo: Well, the “Dumpling Party” installation, which I watched last week. You notice that’s the Andy Warhol, obviously John and Yoko. Were you documenting a moment?

Mekas: No, it was my camera was part of the moment. John had just bought his Polaroid camera. He was taking Polaroids and I was as always, you know, I was snapping and then some other people took my camera and they took pictures of me. It was part of life. That’s what life today consists of—not only of us but we told the things around us and cameras are an inseparable part of life. Today, it’s now telephones. Yes. And whatever is on the table, you can drink and eat and take pictures. It’s part of this style of life.

Vigo: So the modern day still life has to include the camera next to the fruit?

Mekas: Almost, yes. It’s part of it too. Yes, it’s very much.

Vigo: I notice also in many of the films I saw downstairs, I could pick out who is your family because I could see your child and the many images from the late seventies. When I went finally to see this latest project of yours, Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man, I was struck by how these are outtakes, but they are also condensed parts of your life that became on their own a new work.

Mekas: They somehow did not fit into other finished films, or similar takes or shorts that I did not want to have much of the same. So I put it on the shelf. But now I decided for this occasion to do something to stream them all together.

Vigo: And it’s more than just a stream, I mean..

Mekas: Well, I put that stream together. Of course, you work for a year…

Vigo: But it’s a very beautiful collection because you get a sense of not you so much as what you have seen. I mean, yes, one could say that we see pieces of you through the film, but you have seen, many years and we are shared this vision.

Mekas: Also, it’s not just myself because the film in itself is reality and fiction at the same time. You make film and you then share it with others.

Vigo: Well it’s quite a beautiful piece. I was very impressed by the nuances and there’s a certain sweetness that comes out as well as in the outtakes from Allen Ginsberg’s death that you filmed. And I was curious about that because also, I’ve taught this film to my students at NYU and many of the students didn’t even know who Allen Ginsberg is, of course. So you’re teaching them well, giving them a piece of history. But what was really beautiful about that film was just the way you utilize the camera to be a presence and to be an observer in this very sacred moment.

Mekas: Yes, one moment could be sort of invisible camera initially. Again, it’s invisible becomes invisible, but itself invisible but sees everything.

Vigo: And has that experience from filming, let’s say Allen Ginsberg’s death experience, did that also change the way you perceive filmmaking in any sense?

Mekas: No. Well, I mean, I applied what I knew, to that occasion.

Vigo: Have there been any moments in your career that have radically changed the way you think about film making?

Mekas: No. There were important works, but they only confirmed my direction of filmmaking. So people like Marie Menken and her casual kind of filming is just one example.

Vigo: I moved to New York in 1988, and one of the first places I went to see the cinema was Anthology. Also, the then Saint Mark’s movie house, and the Thalia Soho. These were the three places I would go to sort have my own “university of cinema” and create knowledge for myself. And one thing that struck me always about the Anthology Film Archives was, of course, the fact that it challenged the limits on commercial cinema, that commercial cinema necessarily imposes. I spent one Christmas back in ‘88 watching Butterfield eight at the Saint Mark’s theater and I got to see Pasolini on your screens and it was very rare to be able to see Pasolini screened anywhere. So, I looked towards anthology is a place to be able to go in and discover a different nuance in cinema. But today, is that possible outside of these kinds of constructions such as Anthology Film Archives?

Mekas: There are very rarely a few places. Lincoln Center is beginning to open more and more. It was very narrow and very restricted until like a couple of years ago, but now the new generation is taking over. The New York Film Festival and the Film Society as well. And then they are opening it to some today younger cinema from around the world that would have been impossible 10 to 15 years ago. The presentation of Peter Kubelka’s work this Fall is a unique example.

Vigo: Where do you see cinema going with changing technologies?

Mekas: It will continue. They have not settled down on any one technology—they keep changing every two to three years. So we are in transition, and I have no idea where it will end. All I know is that the video cassettes that I want to use some of the footage from the 1990s, I have great difficulty in transferring them to new formats without distorting, destroying it. Then the video art of the seventies of which collections from several of all the video artists we had at anthology, it cost us a lot to try to preserve and to transfer to contemporary and current formats so that they could be seen. And it keeps changing, it’s going to keep changing.

Vigo: Right. I noticed your camera, in fact. It’s a cassette—

Mekas: Yes, they are not making this camera anymore. I got it on eBay. And when this one goes, I will have to switch to a different camera. Because one can get a camera on eBay.

Vigo: When I walked into the gallery last week, you were there with the camera filming around. I seem to always see you with cameras in your hands. Yet, there is an aspect of your work that has always appealed to me as much as your images—that of your connection to music in your films. How did this evolve?

Mekas: Some of my involvement with music is just by chance, circumstance. Some are big project just like the music like I mentioned before. Where I come from, we always have the fields, so whatever we did, we always had music. Back in New York it actually began with Sandra when I met Sandra in Chicago and when he wanted to give a performance in New York. I was running Charles Theater on Avenue B on 12th Street. I gave him midnight performances at the Charles Theater which were Sandra’s first performances in New York. Then later, when I had space and a filmmakers’ cinematheque, many of these events took place on Wooster Street in Soho, then on 41st Street in Times Square with the likes of George Maciunas and the Fluxus. Even Phil Glass when he came back from India gave his first performance in these spaces. Then Lou Reed and his gang needed space to practice in the cinematheque and the same with Ornette Coleman. With all of these musicians we had a working relationship.

Vigo: So you were able to use the venues in multiple ways. Of course, there’s the growing industry now of music and image. I mean both in mainstream cinema and then also in more avant-garde approaches to cinema. In the recent years we have seen how cinema departments have exploded, with departments adding specialities such as “writing music for cinema” programs. So, on the one hand, cinema within academia became very business oriented with the professionalization of this field, and on the other hand—

Mekas: —the cinema itself exploded.

Vigo: Exactly.

Mekas: In ‘65 I could say that I know absolutely every filmmaker in the United States and even though in England and France. Five years later I really think that would be absurd. It was impossible to talk to about American avant-garde film—we had to talk about black cinema, native American cinema, Asian-American cinema, gays cinema, lesbians cinema, etc. [laughing] And it branched out. And then the new technologies video and all. Now it’s like the dream of Cocteau came true and you know. So cinema you will be able to write poems and camera still becomes like a pencil.

Vigo: Exactly. When I was watching To London with Love (2012), I was standing next to a couple, they were in their late sixties, early seventies, and they said, “Oh, there we are.” And they are pointing to themselves in your video and they knew you when you came here to London back in the early seventies to make this film. And they were the ones that organize the film festival that you were at. And I was thinking about this, because years ago there were very few specialized film festivals and now we have so many—Asian-American film festivals, Gay and Lesbian, etc. But aren’t all of these facets of identity somehow over slides, overworked in the sense? Like when I see your film or should I say like going back to Allen Ginsburg’s funeral, there we have a wonderful cinema—it’s gay, lesbian, it’s straight it’s the village, it’s, you know, the nineties. It’s a bit of everything and we don’t, maybe we’re too affixed to these names, these identities, you know? And when does, when do you stop to become a Lithuanian filmmaker or New York filmmaker or both? And then, you know, these identities that we’ve sewn ourselves into seem to mean very little…

Mekas: I think it’s disappearing. I think now it’s more like just a filmmaker or an international or just a movie maker, video maker. That’s it. It is disappearing, it’s at a point where those divisions, why nationality within the sort of family of artists, filmmakers, dancers–it’s still those who are writing but then it is more difficult because of their language barriers. But otherwise, these divisions are disappearing. The same as everything else have legalized what we eat, how we dressed, how we this, how we that. The reaction, like for now we have in Japan, the reaction against the westernization of of Japan. But I think it’s too late that you cannot go back because the problems become universal. The problems will be of food, of water, of air, of ocean. They are no more local, all the disasters, all of their problems, tsunamis, are no more just Japan or Philippines or somewhere, we have a tsunami here in New York practically in the East Coast. So everything and nothing can be just local anymore.

Vigo: It’s true. I mean we are living in maybe cinemas that are an equalizer of all language, you know, that transgresses ethnic and linguistic boundaries.

Mekas: I think that’s what brought me partially I think into cinema because nobody, I could not communicate in Lithuanian. If I wrote my poetry in Lithuania and nobody would, I wrote it because I was still in Lithuania, but I could not communicate with anybody else while with my images could.

Vigo: Right. Tell me about your jacket. When I look at your jacket, it looks like a factory.

Mekas: It’s a French workers Provence jacket.

Vigo: Exactly. I was thinking of a Renault factory worker jacket.

Mekas: Yes, yes. French workers. I’m a worker.

Vigo: Okay. So is this a statement on the proletariat then?

Mekas: I guess like it. But I am against the deal or concept of a “worker.” I do work, I make films. When I was on a farm, what we did in this spring had to be done that spring and what had to be done in the summer was done in the summer. But we were not workers. Workers is a modern invention and I detested because they do only for money, they work for money and they will do anything for money. You know I always give examples, they told us that the torture instruments that were used in the Soviet Union by KGB were made by workers. See, so again, I’m against it. Once, I wrote an Anti-Workers Manifesto. I think you can see it maybe on my website. And I was very much attacked for it. I’m still against workers.

Vigo: So if we’re not workers then, what are we?

Mekas: One has to do what has to be done and has to love. Same as…you know that’s why we have also this system of retiring. “You know you haven’t retired yet?” If you do something that you don’t like, of course, you are anxious to get tired. If you do make what you love, you don’t worry, you cannot retire.

Vigo: Yes. [laughing]

Mekas: So all these workers and they have systems of what happens, you know when you retire at the age of 65, 63.

Vigo: I hear you. I agree. I think retirement is cruel. It puts people in the category of an old racehorse that needs to be taken out. In the West, we do live in a very categorical way. Many people believe that you do this at this age, you should have this done by that age and you don’t have your 401k plan? Oh, no! The obsession with savings accounts and preparing for the future. Worrying about the future has is the new war mentality.

Mekas: Exactly. I got married when I was 52 or 53 when many of my contemporaries were retiring.  And you know, my concept of living is different—I got measured by this civilization.

Categories: News for progressives

Hollywood on Drugs

Fri, 2019-03-15 14:10

Still from “Ben is Back.”

Given the enormity of the drug crisis in the USA, particularly centered on opioid overdoses that are the largest cause of death of people under the age of 50, it was inevitable that Hollywood would begin to produce “problem” movies such as “Ben is Back” and “Beautiful Boy”. It also just as inevitable that such films would be based on the suffering of well-to-do families and suffused with clichés.

“Ben is Back” stars Julia Roberts as Holly Burns, the matriarch of a generally happy family eagerly awaiting Christmas day, the happiest time of the year, especially if you live in the suburbs and have lots of money to lavish on presents. Pulling into her driveway with a carload of gifts to place under the Christmas tree, she sees the ghost of Christmas past, namely her college-aged son Ben (Lucas Hedges) who has cut short his stay in a drug rehabilitation facility to return home from the holidays.

The entire family treats Ben as if he was the scariest ghost showing up in Scrooge’s bedroom. He is there not to remind them of their lifetime of sins but the pain he has visited on them in the past as an opioid addict. Hoping to enjoy a happy time with the family, he is put on the defensive by his mom’s insistence that he take a drug test in the upstairs bathroom right off the bat. As he pees into a bottle, she stands behind him with her arms folded to make sure he is not turning in a fake sample.

While the family holds him at arm’s length, a mother’s love naturally makes Holly susceptible to her son’s charms. Bit by bit, she tries to convince her other kids and her husband that maybe his AWOL trip back home was a sign that he was trying to return to a normal life. As it happens, everything conspires to make them wish he would just go away. When they are in church, someone busts into the house and not only steals all the Christmas presents but their beloved pet dog Ponce.

The remainder of the film consists of Holly and Ben trying to regain the stolen goods, especially Ponce, in a series of fraught confrontations with the town’s drug dealers who all have it in for Ben for one transgression or another. Since their voyage takes place at night, the film aspires to a noir quality that is in sharp distinction to the film’s true calling, which is to make the kind of film the Lifetime Cable channel specializes in, the “problem” drama that generally has a female lead.

“Ben is Back” was written and directed by Peter Hedges, whose son Lucas plays Ben. This is the second film in a row featuring Lucas Hedges as a tormented youth. In “Boy Erased”, he was much more convincing as a gay teen forced to undergo conversion therapy. Of course, it helped that the script for “Boy Erased” was devoid of the maudlin and faux noirelements of the more recent one.

Like “Ben is Back”, “Beautiful Boy” is about a teenage drug addict, in this instance a real boy named Nick Sheff who is the son of David Sheff, a highly successful journalist who has written for the NY Times, Rolling Stone and other prestigious magazines.

The plot of “Beautiful Boy” is practically identical to “Ben is Back” but based this time on addiction to crystal meth. Playing the doting father, Steve Carrell is as off-putting as ever using his characteristic acting mannerisms, which consist mainly of putting a “rest” between each word. Instead of “Nick, I am your father”, we hear “Nick….I….am….your….father”, always with the beagle-like expression on his face that is another mannerism.

Like all films dealing with addiction going back to “A Hatful of Rain” and “The Man with a Golden Arm” of my youth, the narrative arc is predictable. A loving husband, wife, father or mother sacrifices everything to save a child or mate. It is not worth a spoiler alert but the two films under consideration here have a conventionally happy ending.

What makes the films so annoying in the final analysis is their cloistered location in middle-class family life in which addiction enters as a deus ex machina. In Ben’s case, everything was fine until a doctor overprescribed painkillers for a sports injury. For Chris, it is a bit more interesting since he got into drugs like many young people from affluent families do today as an escape from the suffocation of middle-class life. That Chris’s favorite writer from an early age was Charles Bukowski (he recites “Let if Enfold You” to a college literature class) speaks volumes. Except for the final line of the poem, it is the best part of the film:

I changed jobs and
cities, I hated holidays,
babies, history,
newspapers, museums,
marriage, movies,
spiders, garbagemen,
english accents, spain,
france, italy, walnuts and
the color
algebra angered me,
opera sickened me,
charlie chaplin was a
and flowers were for

In reality, the average drug addict in the USA has little in common with Ben Burns or Nick Sheff, especially when it comes to opioids and crystal meth. These are the drugs of choice for the chronically unemployed or underemployed people of places like West Virginia, New Hampshire and even the once prosperous Borscht Belt of upstate New York. A few years ago, I was startled to discover that the house just a few blocks from mine on a pleasant country road was dealing heroin. And more recently, I read in the local newspaper that the kid who I hired as a handyman to get my mother’s house ready for sale was jailed for his latest drug violation.

The dirty little secret is that most people take drugs not because they were overprescribed for a Lacrosse injury but because it helps relieve the boredom and misery of unemployment. Furthermore, if you want to relieve the suffering if you live in such an area, your best bet is to deal heroin, opioids, or crystal meth. These are booming industries, after all, unlike coal-mining.

In a paper written for the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “Macroeconomic Conditions and Opioid Abuse” (a correlation between unemployment, poverty and opioid abuse is made. “As the county unemployment rate increases by one percentage point, the opioid death rate per 100,000 rises by 0.19 (3.6%) and the opioid overdose ED visit rate per 100,000 increases by 0.95 (7.0%).”

Would Hollywood make a film about a West Virginia family suffering the consequences of opioid addiction? Judging by the junk that was honored by the latest Academy Awards event, it is highly doubtful. About the closest it came was Gus Van Sant’s 1989 “Drugstore Cowboy” that was based on a novel by James Fogle, a career criminal with a sixth grade education. In a bit part, William S. Burroughs plays a junkie priest, something that makes this terrific film worth its $2.99 price on Youtube.

If heroin, opioids and crystal meth have helped to foster a cottage industry of small proprietors, the much bigger impact has been on capitalist enterprises operating within the law. An eye-opening documentary titled “American Relapse” that opens at the Cinema Village in NY and at the Monica Film Center in LA on March 29th, with VOD to follow on April 2nd, reveals the “rehabilitation” industry at work in Delray Beach, Florida, the epicenter of the nation’s heroin addiction/treatment center. You learn from the film that there is megabucks to be made for detox and rehabilitation clinics that are to the heroin addiction world that nursing homes are to the elderly—nothing but warehouses. Making up to $10,000 per month per resident taking care of junkies and dementia patients is big business, after all. Stephen Schwarzman’s Blackstone made a bundle cornering the nursing home business in England so it would not be surprising to see him dive headlong into the detox/rehabilitation business.

The film depicts a couple of “junkie hunters” at work in Delray Beach, both ex-addicts themselves. Frankie is a heavily tattooed man in his thirties who has been using heroin since he was 14 years old. Now, supposedly clean, he drives around Delray Beach looking for addicts to get into treatment. So does Allie, another ex-junkie, who is his female counterpart.

We learn from them that they are not in it just for the money (they get a bounty in effect for bringing an addict in for treatment). They also look after people without any insurance, not even Obamacare, because they know what it is like to live life on the margins. Frankie is seen looking after a man named Conor who looks like death warmed over. Without insurance, and just as importantly without any real chance at true rehabilitation, Conor is not the ideal prospect for a “junkie hunter”. We feel for him and feel for Frankie who understands what it means to be a loser. The film ends with the Conor’s funeral and the discovery that Frankie has been using heroin during the filming of “American Relapse”, something he kept secret from the directors.

Everybody wins in the drug business except people like Conor. The prison industry makes big bucks from housing inmates, 45 percent of whom are behind bars for drug offenses. The “treatment” industry makes out because junkies come in and out of their facilities like through a revolving door. The cost of keeping prisons and treatment centers is footed by the taxpayers and like any other such capitalist scam benefits those at the top.

The answer to the drug problem is the same as it was for the alcohol problem, a substance as deadly as any opioid. If marijuana is soon to become legal in the USA, it will join beer and whiskey as an acceptable “recreational” drug. It would take a massive shift in values in the USA for cocaine and opiates to get the same status but it is not hard to imagine that becoming possible if we become like European social democracies that have always had a more enlightened policy. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that outcome giving our lurching backward into the Dark Ages at breakneck speed.

Categories: News for progressives

Daffodil, the Great

Fri, 2019-03-15 14:05

Foolish day
To think that I would fall for such a cheap trick!
And to think that you would

Draw on my heart
For your gullible audience,
Pulling a robin out of your hat

Waving your wand
To make the snow vanish,
Making the sunlight seem to brighten

Just as I look up.
How can I trust you now?
Even the man who just brought my coffee

Is conspiring with another waiter
To bring the tables outside.
How cruel.

They glance over to make sure that I am listening.
How much did you have to bribe them?
And the mud on our road,

One inch shy of axel deep!
I know as well as you
That you have no intention

Of thawing the road for keeps.
Soon those foot-deep ruts will be ridges
As hard as concrete.

You want us to think that we made it,
That the deck is in our favor.
“Pick any card”, you say

With a vulpine smile.
But I know you better.
You may fool the newcomers

Into thinking they will draw the black lotus,
But I know fake magic when I see it.
The greatest magician of all

Is no illusionist!
And no matter how many times she does it
It never gets old.

She finds her way out of a frozen bulb
And a million locks spring open.
Including the one on my heart.

Categories: News for progressives

Edward Abbey – Cowboys

Fri, 2019-03-15 05:17

Categories: News for progressives

Ilhan Omar Exposes US Hegemonic Positioning and Takes on Both Political Parties    

Thu, 2019-03-14 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Somali-American Ilhan Omar is a member of the US House of Representatives from Minnesota’s 5th district. Elected to the United States Congress in November 2018, Omar is a critical and strong voice that advocates for progressive policies and lawmaking in regards to housing, a living wage, student debt forgiveness, and the protection of immigrants.

Since February 2019 Omar has come under attack for tweeting, retweeting, deleting, stating and restating, a number of positions, including of course that financial resources generated by pro-Israel lobbying groups served as motivation for American political support of Israel. Omar is currently facing another onslaught by high powered Democrats for subsequent comments she made regarding Israel. This after a recent racist depiction of Omar by the West Virginia GOP in a poster linking her to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Since these more recent developments, House Resolution 183, in historic fashion, issued the word “Islamophobia,” (deeper in the text) and was to many, a sign of progress in marking the first time there has been a formal condemnation of this term. Furthermore, the three leading Democratic nominees for 2020 all issued defenses of Omar, showing that the bottom up defenses of Omar has reached the mainstream and political center.

Can it really be believed that Omar is a bigot that demonstrates a bias? Likely no, but in some ways imagined antisemitism is no match for real Islamophopia within the Democratic Party.

In this interview, I spoke to Richard Falk about the history of Zionism, Islamophobia and the pressure and vulnerability pundits, authors, academics (including himself) and elected officials like Congresswoman Omar face when they take on machine politicians and the established order especially in the American foreign policy arena.

Daniel Falcone: Going back to when this all started about a month ago, can you briefly remind readers of what your initial reactions were to Ilhan Omar’s tweets and to the course of events that quickly followed soon after? Did she misspeak? Isn’t the Lobby (or AIPAC) “small potatoes” compared to other groups or official US policy in the first place?

Richard Falk: When I first heard these comments by Ilhan Omar I was glad that there was a new voice in Congress that would speak up on behalf of the Palestinian people so long subjected to a daily ordeal whether they are living under occupation, as a discriminated minority in Israel, or in refugee camps in occupied Palestine and neighboring countries, or existing in involuntary exile.

Although I welcomed her critical remarks on AIPAC, and later on the dual loyalty of some Americans when it comes to Israel, they struck me as familiar and reflective of reality as to have become almost innocuous truisms. How wrong I was!  On further consideration, it became clear to me that her remarks (of course, exaggerated in their intended meaning by being torn from the wider context of the full statements) were treated as so inflammatory not so much because of their content, but because of their source, a black-Muslim-American woman, and her status as a newly elected member of Congress.

The essence of what she had to say was hardly the stuff of fiery radicalism. After apologizing for what might have unintentionally been hurtful to Jews, convincingly distancing herself from real anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews) her message was true but important only because she as a newly elected congressperson was willing to declare her concerns in high visibility settings:

I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry…It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.” And “I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

The overblown response to these Omar tweets had the effect of mobilizing the liberal and Christian Zionist establishments in and out of Congress. These groups pressed Democrats in Congress to give concreteness to their allegations by their angry calls for apologies, retractions, and censure. Those outraged insisted that the truths Rep. Ilhan Omar dared speak were nothing less than ‘familiar anti-Semitic tropes.’ This expansion of anti-Semitism from its base meaning, the hatred of Jews, is a tactic used to spread the net of anti-Semitism much wider. This referral to ‘tropes’ is an insidious way of substituting ‘political correctness’ for the transparencies of truthfulness.

Once this enlarged anti-Semitic card is on the table, the accuracy or inaccuracy of Omar’s statements becomes irrelevant, and any attempt by the person so accused to justify their assertions by pointing to the facts only aggravates the sin, and reinforces the allegation. In effect, freedom of expression takes a back seat when an anti-Semitic trope is invoked by defaming critics.

This dynamic is even more problematic when the speaker has a status that bestows prestige and is capable of wielding influence. It has been extremely helpful to Israel over the decades to have virtual unanimity in the U.S. Congress on any agenda item that touches its interests or assesses its behavior. It puts critics of Israel in the larger society on the defensive, and makes support for Israel so bipartisan as to become virtually absolute – and making opposition to any important pro-Israel initiative, for instance annual military appropriations, becomes politically untenable.

Such a tactic has been highly effective in the past. It has made anyone politically foolish enough to defy this overarching consensus exceedingly vulnerable to political defeat in the next scheduled election. Such a person is clearly targeted, and yes, by AIPAC, rich Zionist donors, and pro-Israeli Christian lobbies and likely the lucky opponent will have trouble spending all the money pouring into his or her campaign coffers.

This pattern of ‘enforcing’ unanimity can be traced back at least as far as the experience of Paul Findley, a courageous, moderate, and humanly decent Congressman from Illinois, who was blacklisted and politically defeated after serving ten term after he raised his voice to decry the unbalanced approach relied on by the U.S. Government to manage the Israel/Palestine relationship.

Ever since he lost his House seat in 1982 Findley has devoted himself to exposing and criticizing the role that AIPAC plays using language not dissimilar to that employed by Omar. See his important book They Dare Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby (1985, 2003).

It is not only Findley that has been targeted over the years, but several others who fall afoul of AIPAC’s disciplinary code, including such distinguished figures as Charles Percy, Adlai Stevenson III, Pete McCloskey, and above all, Cynthia McKinney, the only woman and African American on this honor roll. To deny or obscure such a cause and effect relationship is tantamount to swallowing the Kool Aid of Zionist thought control. I can only wonder whether Congresswoman Omar was aware of this background when she decided to speak out forcefully, yet in a moderate tone delivering a message that cannot be factually refuted hence the messenger becomes the target.

Status matters in these campaigns to defame critics of Israel. When someone as prominent as Richard Goldstone associated his name with a UN fact-finding inquiry into Israeli wrongdoing arising from the 2008-09 attack on Gaza he suffered mightily from the backlash. The Report reached conclusions critical of Israel that were fact-based, rather restrained given the evidence, and fully documented. Impressions of fairness were further strengthened by coupling the accusations against Israel with harsh denunciations of Hamas’ unlawful acts of retaliation. Such characteristics of the Report did nothing to tone down the fury of Israeli reactions, which singled out Goldstone with vituperative rage. Although Goldstone was at the time a widely admired international figure who had won international recognition for his anti-apartheid role in South Africa, neither his eminence nor his legal professionalism protected him from the slash-and-burn tactics of his detractors – quite the contrary.

The heaviest defamatory artillery was deployed to mount an intense attack on his person and reputation. Despite his lifelong Zionist connections, Goldstone was denounced, censured at the highest levels of government in Israel with the negative chorus joined by several leading political figures in the U.S. He was even accused of authoring ‘a blood libel’ against the Jewish people. It turned out that Goldstone couldn’t withstand these pressures and backed down in humiliating fashion without the support of any of the three other distinguished members of the UN commission team.

With this retraction totally lost the respect of the human rights community without regaining respectability among Zionists. Goldstone’s turnaround demonstrates how effective these Israeli tactics can be in silencing its critics, evading truth, and shifting the policy conversation from the message (in this instance, the Report) to the messenger.

My own analogous experience at a much lower level of international visibility was rather similar. As long as I was a dissenting professor on Israel/Palestine, I was more or less ignored, but when I was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine all hell broke loose. I received death threats and hate mail calling me many names, but concentrating on depicting me as ‘a notorious anti-Semite’ and ‘a self-hating Jew.’ This campaign of defamation continued unabated during my six years holding this UN position, yet immediately after my term ended in 2014 the attacks subsided, although they were revived in 2017 when a UN report that I jointly authored was released. Its carefully constructed arguments showed that Israel was an apartheid state according to the criteria established by international criminal law. Unlike Goldstone, I refused to back down or shut up, and for this stubbornness I paid a different kind of price.

The experience of Ilhan Omar is, of course, more extreme and revealing than mine. It is a grim reminder that whenever African Americans are allowed on the plantation, they are slapped down harshly if they become ‘uppity.’ Although born and raised in Somalia, Omar was nevertheless perceived as uppity. There is a Jim Crow element present here that is being applied especially since 9/11 to Muslims. A large part of what is operating here is to paint Ilhan Omer as an anti-Semite because it is not politically correct to be explicitly Islamophobic, but it is quite all right to be indirectly so beneath the banner of solidarity with Israel.

In effect, it is bad enough if Muslims are seen, and worse, if they are heard and still worse if they somehow obtain an official platform from which to speak, and worst of all, if they use this platform to speak out in ways that expose truths long swept under the rug. To some degree the racist mentality directed previously at African Americans has shifted its center of gravity to Muslims, and reaches fever levels, when the perceived offender is not only Muslim but also African American.

Recent events confirm that the orchestrated backlash becomes more vicious if the criticism of Israel issues forth from the mouth of a person of color who enjoys a high intellectual or cultural status. The Temple professor, Marc Lamont Hill, was almost instantly dismissed from his role as a commentator and consultant to CNN merely because he used the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ to describe Palestinian rights in the course of a judicious and humane speech on the conditions of a true peace between Israel and Palestine delivered at the UN a few months ago. Hill responded to the pressure by offering an explanatory apology for any misunderstanding he might have unintentionally caused. He eventually managed to survive demands that he be dismissed from his tenured professorship. Even so, the public pounding Hill endured surely sent a chilling message to others throughout the country who might be tempted to speak out, and is likely to result in a sharp decline in the number of invitations he receives to speak at academic conferences at least for five years or so.

In other words, whether knowingly or not Illhan Omar poked her head into this lion’s den, and it has had consequences that are likely beyond her imagining at the time she spoke out. Omar definitely touched a raw nerve by so defiantly challenging this bipartisan consensus to refrain from criticisms of Israel and its support system — particularly, when her comments seemed to be saying that it is impossible to reconcile such loyalty to a foreign country with the obligations of an elected American official to give priority to national interests.

Daniel Falcone: On December 13, 2011 Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in reference to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to US Congress that the “ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” He received some criticism for it, but no liberal called it an “anti-Semitic trope” either literally or in proportion to the reaction of Omar’s word choice. Can you unpack the difference between Friedman saying this and Omar? I think Omar was really speaking to US hegemony and this all indirectly makes the point that in the US, it’s okay to use “tropes” as long as you hate Muslims more.

Richard Falk: My prior response sets the stage for my response to this question. Friedman’s stature and generally supportive role for Israeli policies, although acutely critical of Netanyahu, led even most militant supporters of Israel to construe his comments as narrowly confined to Iran’s nuclear program. The strong Israeli objections to the nuclear deal so scrupulously negotiated with Russia bothered many Jews, even including many Zionists. As suggested, Friedman although prominent and influential, did not have an official position in government or an international institution, and the defiant Netanyahu speech on a question not primarily directly related to Israel was then testing the outer limits of bipartisanship with respect to Israel. The whole episode seemed primarily intended by his Republican hosts as a slap at the Obama presidency, and his nuclear diplomacy.

Even on this occasion, Friedman was characteristically careful to couple his criticisms of the Israeli approach to security issues under Netanyahu with affirmations of a continuing belief in the sanctity of the Jewish state and an avowal of a two-state solution as still the only solution that could be feasible and might be negotiable. [See his “Ilhan Omar, AIPAC, and me,” with the super-revealing and self-serving sub-head, “The congresswoman and I have a lot in common — but not her stance on Israel,” NY Times, March 6, 2019,] This continues to be the liberal Zionist line, but it is rather self-contradictory.

Any close observer should realize that the broad spectrum of Israeli public opinion now is definitely opposed to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state under any conditions.  The Likud has by way of the settlement movement to foreclose a two-state solution as a feasible political option. Friedman is no fool. He too must be aware of this. It prompts raising a question parallel to that suggested by the title of a Murakami work of fiction, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. My question: What is Friedman really talking about when he talks about the two-state solution?

Friedman’s remarks were framed around the particular event of Netanyahu’s speech, and were not formulated to be heard as a general indictment of AIPAC or to call attention of his readers to the disproportionate influence exerted by pro-Israeli viewpoints on foreign policy. Some years ago when John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt published The Israel Lobby their book was sharply attacked as anti-Semitic because it mounted a general argument about the distortion of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The central contention of the book was that American foreign policy quite often was bent to accommodate Israel’s national interests at the expense of American regional interests in the Middle East.

The authors were, of course, not members of Congress and the anti-Semitic slur of their accusers never became a matter of public debate. Mearsheimer and Walt possessed impeccable academic credentials backed up by senior appointments at leading universities. This Zionist pushback was not very severe or sustained, although it was serious enough to tarnish their mainstream media acceptability to some extent. Objectively, it was absurd to attack such academic experts, both known to me personally, who are above all prominent in the field of international relations as ‘political realists.’ It seems evident that they were not motivated by any particular empathy for the Palestinians or hostility to Jews, but were acting on their consistently expressed belief that a rational foreign policy must be based on interests of the nation and not be shaped by pressures mounted by special interests of an ethnic minority, private sector actors, or on behalf of the paid lobbyists of a foreign government.

What is paramount to observe when comparing Friedman to Omar is the reality of a double-standard. Ilhan Omar became especially vulnerable because she is Muslim, African, and an immigrant, as well as being a newly elected member of Congress. If she had made these comments back in Minnesota with tweets or at a community meeting in her neighborhood, it might have produced some angry reactions from local Zionist activists, but no likely wider ripples. If she held a still higher public office in Washington than at present the attack on her would likely have been even more intense, as Jimmy Carter discovered when he titled his unwaveringly moderate book on Israel/Palestine ‘Peace or Apartheid’ The book was essentially a plea for peace and a warning about the consequences of kicking the can further and further down the road.

There is also the question about whether American foreign policy is shaped by the Israeli lobby or that Israel and the United States share common policies toward the region. If the latter is the case then it is a matter of convergence, not Zionist influence that explains the course of American policy. Both views can be supported, especially if it is accepted that Zionist and AIPAC influence may be greater at some times than at others. For instance, it would seem that the two countries are quite closely aligned on counterterrorism policy in the post-9/11 context.

Yet when it came to the 5 + 1 2015 Nuclear Agreement with Iran, it was evident that the White House was pursuing a line of policy at variance with the priorities of Israel’s approach toward Iran. In this regard, when major geopolitical interests are at stake, and an American president is sensitive to their significance, variance with Israeli preferences will be acted upon, despite domestic friction generated by AIPAC and other lobbying groups. Under the Trump presidency, the approach to Iran converges to a far greater degree than with Obama, which seems both to reflect greater responsiveness to Netanyahu’s influence but also appears consistent with Trump’s view of Iran as a threat to regional order in the Middle East that is most consistent with American security.

Daniel Falcone: In this entire conversation, not many people are mentioning how anti-Semitic Zionism is, and it’s something sadly under-discussed in educated US opinion. Can you unpack this for me?

Richard Falk: This is an entirely appropriate question that goes to the heart of what might be described as ‘the use and misuse of anti-Semitism’ in political discourse. The issues raised are complicated because there are variations based on place and historical circumstances.

Of course, the shocking suggestion that Zionism can be responsibly accused of anti-Semitism is treated as an affront by almost every Zionists and most Jews. Some Jews have been brainwashed to an extent that they believe strongly that Zionism is unconditionally dedicated to providing sanctuary for Jews in a Jewish sovereign state, and to the practical necessity of achieving this goal combined with its biblical justifications and its anticipated success in restoring Jewish self-esteem individually and collectively.

Yet there were anti-Semitic sentiments even in the writings of Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, the intellectual fathers of the Zionist movement, decrying the image and behavior of Jews in the diaspora, almost vindicating their non-acceptance by the hegemonic political cultures and social structures of Europe. Zionist thought sought to free Jews from persecution, but also to have a state of their own worthy of gentile respect.

It is also true that Zionism has from its origins has been preoccupied with the establishment and security of a Jewish state, and since 1948 fiercely defensive of Israel. Yet Zionism has always exhibited a pragmatic and opportunistic side that made it at all stages seem beneficial for the Zionist movement to work jointly, even collaboratively, with the most extreme anti-Semitic forces unleashed in Europe after World War I or in the regional neighborhood and global setting that Israel inhabits.

In this regard, the Zionist vision of a Jewish state in ‘the promised land’ seemed like an extreme utopian conception at its outset. We should remember that at the time when the Zionist movement was formally launched in 1897 the Jewish population of Palestine was 8%, and when the Balfour Declaration pledging support for a Jewish homeland was issued in 1917, the Jewish population had only risen to 8.1%, and even after the forced displacement during the period of Nazi ascendancy, Jews were only 30% of Palestine in 1947 when the partition plan was endorsed by the UN General Assembly.

How in the world could Zionists hope in an era of rising nationalism around the world hope to establish a Jewish state in what had so clearly become a non-Jewish society? This was the animating puzzle that has haunted Zionism in the course of becoming a political project rather than a utopian phantasy. And it continues Israel by making governance and security depend on apartheid structures that make the continuing claim of being “the only democracy in the Middle East” a mockery (when the circumstances of the Palestinian people as a whole is taken into account.)

Without entering into the details of a complicated history, the grounds on which a kind of Zionist anti-Semitism was erected, involved persuading, and in some instances coercing Jews to emigrate to Palestine. In other words, only by making life in the diaspora unbearable for Jews could the Zionist project advance towards its goals in Palestine. In this sense, the rise of hatred of Jews throughout Europe, and especially Germany, in the period after World War I did encourage the Jewish option. Beyond this, the anti-Semitic leadership in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, as well as Nazi Germany, had a common interest with Zionism in inducing Jewish emigration.

This led the Polish Government to help train elite Zionist militias and supply weapons so that the Zionist penetration of Palestine would not meet with failure when it encountered resistance. In other words, diaspora Jews were being manipulated, including after World War II, to choose Palestine rather than other destinations, including those who had survived the death camps of the Holocaust.

Since Israel was established it has struggled to gain acceptance as a legitimate state. It did gain entry into the UN, but it was subject to aggressive hostility from its Arab neighbors and from Pro-Palestinians sentiments in the global South. Again it reacted by bonding to the extent possible with anti-Semitic governments and civil society movements. Netanyahu has developed cordial relations with the anti-Semitic leader, Viktor Orban, of Hungary and Israel has been supplying weapons and helping train policy and paramilitary training to many extreme rightest governments over the years.

It also courted the support of Christian Zionism, which while fanatically pro-Israeli is also anti-Semitic in the prime sense of wanting Jews to leave America and elsewhere, retuning to Israel. Their rationale is religious, based on their interpretation of the Book of Revelations, (specifically in prophesy) that the Second Coming of Jesus will only occur when all Jews return to Israel. It is also anti-Semitic in its vision that after the return of Jesus, Jews will be given an opportunity to convert to Christianity, which if refused, will lead those Jews that refuse to damnation.

Daniel Falcone: Noam Chomskymentioned this past summer how Israel was losing its support as the “darling of liberal America” as it moved more and more to support right-wing regimes in the era of Trump. At the time, it made much sense but this seems to be incredibly short lived. Does his type of observation reflect the purpose of the recent backlash?

Richard Falk:I believe both developments are occurring, and are connected. There are many confirmations of weakening public support for Israel due to many factors, and it would seem that the citizenry in America would accept as a positive initiative, presidential moves toward a more balanced approach. Such an approach to be credible would have to confront some difficult issues. The U.S. would have to react against Israeli flagrant violations of international humanitarian law with respect to Israeli reliance on excessive force in responding to the Palestinian demonstrations at the Gaza fence that have occurred every Friday throughout the entire year.

Beyond this, a balanced approach would have to voice support for the Palestinian right of self-determination based on the equality of the two peoples. Even more ambitiously, if the objective of American diplomacy was to become a sustainable peace rather than a ceasefire, Israel would have to be pressed to dismantle the apartheid structures it has relied upon to subjugate the Palestinian people and crush resistance to the imposition of a Jewish state on an essentially non-Jewish society. If these steps were to be taken the foundation for a peace process would finally have been laid. On such firm ground a political compromise begins to be imaginable that mechanisms for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect could finally shape the future for both peoples.

Since Israel is losing this base of strong support in the liberal sectors of American society, the pushback by pro-Israeli militants has grown uglier, and more severe, verging on the desperate, mainly relying on defamation while foregoing appeals to ethics and law. From this perspective, a strong control over Congress has become more important than ever for Israel as a means to insulate policymaking from a potentially threatening democratic sentiment critical of Israel and its policies. As with gun control, taxation, and the legalization of marijuana, the preferences of the citizenry are blocked by money and lobbying.

The Palestinian cause has been at a particular disadvantage in Congress due to its inability to mobilize countervailing force to challenge and fracture the pro-Israel consensus. This has created this mindlessly one-sided phenomenon, defying evidence and law that can only be understood as ‘the deformation of democracy.’ For a person in Congress to express their true beliefs or to honor their conscience by opposing Israel has in the past amounted to political suicide, while covering up Israeli wrongdoing has no down side whatsoever for elected officials. This is not healthy.

The most intriguing question posed by the Ilhan Omar incident is whether the tide is turning. On the one side, are the AIPAC style enforcers punishing any member of Congress that seems to be challenging the bipartisan consensus. On the other side, is a recognition that there is growing sympathy for the Palestinian people, and that is time to reset American policy on Israel/Palestine, and indeed toward the whole of the Middle East. In retrospect, it seems that pro-Israeli neocons helped push the United States to launch the disastrous Iraq War in 2003, and is now, with the full backing of the Trump White House edging toward an even more disastrous war initiated against Iran.

The deferral of the vote on a bill framed to condemn as anti-Semitism the sort of allegations of collective Jewish influence has been called ‘a political earthquake’ because it discloses tensions within the ranks of the Democratic Party on how to respond to Omar’s controversial tweets, and this a definite weakening of the earlier consensus. As with the dramatic Angela Davis turnaround in Birmingham, there may now be expanded space and protection for criticism of Israel and the tactics of Zionist enforcers.

Significantly, also, several Democratic presidential aspirants, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris have spoken in defense of Ilhan Omar. The dust has yet to settle, but even this degree of ferment may be a healthy sign of better times ahead.

Daniel Falcone: Lawrence Davidson recently pointed out how pro-Palestinian politicians might have to carefully craft their language to prevent the intentional distortion of their words. Since he wrote this however, and added a superb update and follow up, it seems that no matter how careful their words are, Omar’s or others, rebukes will be commonplace as a result of political differences. It’s not really what she said, it’s the implications of how it can be utilized in redirecting American foreign policy beyond Netanyahu to extend to bipartisan policies overall. I’m reminded of Davidson’s additional takes on J-Streetas contributing to ideological gatekeeping. What are your thoughts?

Richard Falk:  I find Lawrence Davidson’s commentaries on important public issues to be incisive, developing morally coherent and politically progressive interpretations of complex and often controversial issues. Here, I feel however, that Davidson could consider those in the Zionist camp that seek to discredit a message critical of Israel — as rather indifferent to whether the formulations are carefully crafted or not. Their sole objective is to discredit the messenger, which has the added benefit of shifting the conversation away from what was said to who said it. This shifting of the conversation is as important as the defamatory undertaking, and thus even if the person escapes with their reputation more or less undamaged, the discussion will be about whether the allegations were well founded or not. We see that with the Omar experience.

Of course, if there are phrases that can be lifted from the offending statement or document that makes the work of defamation and distraction easier to accomplish, so much the better. But even if the message, tweet, or document was the work of heavenly scribes it would not deter defamation if the criticism has political traction.

Again the case of Goldstone and my own experience at the UN is instructive. The report of the Goldstone Commission was never subjected to substantive criticism by those who mounted their scathing attacks on Goldstone’s character. In my case, my twelve reports as Special Rapporteur received almost no substantive criticism from Israel or its puppet NGO, UN Watch, which trained all of its guns on my supposedly anti-Semitic character, or on my supposedly incendiary views on such irrelevant issues as the Iranian Revolution or comments on the Boston Marathon massacre.

The crucial point here is what I have previously argued. These defenders of Israel are not trying to win an argument about disputed facts and rival interpretations of law. They are trying to make the author of what is objectionable to the Zionist outlook so disreputable that whether the analyses are true or false becomes irrelevant. I used to tell the official delegates at the UN in Geneva and New York that you only had to be 10% objective to reach the same factual and legal conclusions that were set forth in my reports. In other words, if this is more or less correct about Israeli encroachments on human rights in the course of maintaining control of Occupied Palestine, then it would be a fool’s errand to try to engage on substance.

The situation in Congress is quite special because unanimity on Israeli support has prevailed, and is itself seen as being so valuable for Israel, making any significant departure a risky course for a politician to take as the record shows. The attack on Ilhan Omar may have gone too far, given who she is, what she actually said, and the more progressive trends evident in the American voting public. Just as her status and identity make her especially vulnerable it also makes those who support a pluralist, democratic country fight back on her behalf.

The experience of the human rights award given last October by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) can be seen as a precursor of the Omar experience, especially the backlash against the backlash. At first, caving to pressures attributed to the Jewish community in Birmingham BCRI rescinded the award. What followed was unprecedented—surging protests against this action, and a reversal by BCRI with an announcement that the award had been restored. At this point it is not known whether Angela Davis will go along with the original invitation to speak at an awards event. What makes this incident relevant is that it shows that even when a black woman activist is targeted in this punitive manner, countervailing forces are now fighting back. Ilhan Omar’s experience reinforces this new encouraging reality, which will undoubtedly ebb and flow as these forces battle it out for ascendancy.

We have not yet reached the outcome of the Omar firestorm but it could be that the attackers will back off, especially given the dark clouds forming over Israel in the shape of Netanyahu’s embrace of electoral support from the overt extreme right and the rather weak presidential and congressional responses to White Supremacist language from within their ranks or at the notorious Charlottesville demonstrations.

The House Resolution passed by a vote of 407-23 is a barometer of shifts in tone and substance even in the Congress. After an acrimonious week of debate about a resolution that was a thinly veiled attack on Omar for her supposed anti-Semitism, the text of the resolution passed on March 7th was broadened to become a condemnation of all form of intolerance, specifically mentioning “African Americans, Native Americans, and other persons of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others” so victimized.

It pleased many that Islamophobia was finally formally condemned, and in this context elevated to a rank of equivalence with anti-Semitism.

As expected, such encouraging moral correctives angered pro-Israeli militants who called the revised resolution ‘spineless’ and even ‘disgusting,’ They were upset that the resolution withdrew the privileged status of the Holocaust in the annals of intolerance, and denied Jews and anti-Semitism exclusivity when it comes to victimization. It is precisely this feature that I find encouraging, making it a form of poetic justice that Ilhan Omar could end up voting in favor of a resolution originally brought forward with the intent of branding her as guilty of anti-Semitism.

Daniel Falcone: Jeremy Corbyn is another decent person that faced heavy criticism and allegations for his word choices regarding the Holy State. It’s been pointed out by some progressives that the more progressive left tolerates or openly supports Corbyn and Omar’s “anti-Semitism” only because they want to emphasize their opposition to the illegal settlement expansion and to fend off the hard right. They argue, that’s no excuse to let the “trope” making off the hook. Meanwhile, since this sentiment has been expressed, the same people have not condemned the racist and demeaning Islamophobic depiction of Omar by the West Virginia GOP. Largely because, and cynically so, it was suspected that her own identity insulated her from her initial comments in the first place. Carlos A. Rivera-Jones remarked that, “As long as you hate Muslims (and people identified as Muslims, like Palestinians) more than Jews, you are not anti-Semitic and this is the hegemonic position [in the US].” Could you comment?

Richard Falk: The guns of liberal Zionism are booming. Bret Stephens, proud of his call for the resignation of Netanyahu demonstrating to his satisfaction that American Zionist do not walk in lockstep submission to Israel and its strong prime minister, feels free to condemn Omar for what he calls ‘Corbynism.’ [Bret Stephens, “Ilhan Omar Knows Exactly What She Is Doing,” NY Times, March 7, 2019] What this slur intends to convey is that the person can be personally free of anti-Semitic hatred of Jews, and yet because of their distaste for Zionism or Israel, still qualify as ‘anti-Semites’ because they invoke ‘the tropes’ used to mobilize hatred of Jews through the ages. Her tweets about dual allegiance and Jewish money used to silence critics of Israel serve as evidence.

I consider this kind of demeaning attack on Jeremy Corban and Ilhan Omar to be irresponsible to the point of generating the very feelings it purports to be condemning. For such morally sensitive and political progressive personalities to be so smeared because they point to features of reality associated with this unprecedented ‘special relationship’ or their willingness to befriend those that make such criticisms of the use of Jewish power to hide Israeli injustice. Such lines of attack are not only intended to narrow freedom of expression when it comes to Israel but also to rely on a dragnet sort of argument that rests on guilt by association.

Again to illustrate from my own experience a major English newspaper carrying on their vendetta against Corbyn published a picture of him and me at an event in London where we discussed the Palestinian ordeal, contending that by appearing with an anti-Semite like myself Corbyn was linking arms with anti-Semitism.

Daniel Falcone: There are journalists and liberal critics of Omar’s “tropes” that state that opposition to US/Israel policy on the one hand is fine, but reinforcing conspiracy theories are not. This is entirely understandable yet I don’t see J-Street type rhetoric translating into meaningful shifts in policy construction. Could you comment on the limitations of partisan criticism of Israel when it seems it should be bipartisan?

Richard Falk: I think that identifying and criticizing collective efforts to control debate on Israel/Palestine or to intimidate defections from bipartisan unity in the Congress and elsewhere that call attention to the biasing of legislative scrutiny and procedures, it is characterized as an anti-Semitic trope, which is supposed to establish taboos that if violated, generate a justifiable contention of anti-Semitism. The plausibility of this use of ‘tropes’ is the purported link to the historical experience of conspiracy theories used by right wing movements to mobilize fear and hatred of Jews, fabricating Jewish plots to use Jewish money to penetrate and dominate the centers of power, and even to take over control of the whole world (for example, the Elders of Zion).

It is false reasoning to merge criticisms of actual collective action that is fact-based with fabricated conspiracies designed to generate fear and hatred, and give rise to persecution or worse.

Daniel Falcone is an activist, educator and journalist in New York City. Follow his work at: @DanielFalcone7.

Richard Falk is a world famous international law scholar and activist. 


Categories: News for progressives

The Boeing 737 Max 8: a Case Study in Uncreative Destruction

Thu, 2019-03-14 16:00

Photograph Source LLBG Spotter

On October 29, 2018, a Boeing 737 Max 8 belonging to Lion Air in Indonesia crashed into the Java Sea 12 minutes after take-off. All 189 passengers and crew members were killed instantly. It is extremely unusual for planes to suffer such accidents in clear weather after having reached their cruising altitude. Flight experts concluded that the pilots were not adequately trained in the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a robotics technology that lowers the nose of a plane to prevent a stall. Although there is no definitive judgement on exactly what happened, it appears to be a combination of inadequate training for the pilots and a malfunctioning MCAS.

On Sunday, another 737 Max 8 owned by Ethiopian Airlines had the same kind of accident resulting in the death of 157 passengers and crew members. In the aftermath of the tragedy, this has led to Australia, China, Germany, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom grounding the planes.

Looking at these two horrible tragedies that will make me think twice about getting on a plane again, I keep thinking of the title of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s classic “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. In essence, the use of MCAS is akin to an experimental, driverless car owned by Uber killing a pedestrian who was jaywalking on a dark road in Tempe, Arizona on May 18, 2018. The back-up driver, who was supposed to keep a sharp eye on the road to prevent such an accident, was watching reruns of the reality TV show “The Voice” at the time.

Despite such incidents (there have been 4 fatalities already), the bourgeoisie is determined to push ahead since the savings in labor costs will make up for the collateral damage of dead pedestrians. While I am skeptical that completely driverless cars will ever become the norm for Uber or Lyft, I can see people with little driving experience being paid minimum wage just to be a back-up to the computer system—as long as they don’t watch TV on the job. (Fat chance with such a boring job.)

This morning Donald Trump tweeted about the airline crash. “Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are….”

To begin with, the issue is not planes becoming too complex. It is rather that they are becoming too simple in terms of the amount of deskilling the airlines favor. As for the issue of replacing human labor with robots, he is all for it—reflecting the priorities of a ruling class bent on driving down wages.

In a US News and World Report article titled “The Race Is On After Feds Pave Way for Driverless Trucks”, we learn:

The most optimistic analysts project that trucks with empty cabs and a computer at the wheel will travel on U.S. highways in as little as two years with no escort or safety driver in sight now that the Trump administration has signaled its willingness to let tractor-trailers to become truly driverless.

The U.S. Department of Transportation this month announced that it will “no longer assume” that the driver of a commercial truck is human, and the agency will even “adapt the definitions of ‘driver’ and ‘operator’ to recognize that such terms do not refer exclusively to a human, but may in fact include an automated system.”

Already, automated truck developers such as Embark and TuSimple have made freight deliveries where the computer takes control on the highway, overseen by a human “safety driver.” Companies have also successfully tested “platooning,” where a truck with a human driver leads a convoy of as many as five computer-driven trucks following at close distance to reduce drag and save fuel.

The technologies promise big savings, with driverless trucks potentially slashing 40 percent from the cost of long-haul freight – much of it in saved labor expenses – and platooning cutting 10 to 15 percent in fuel costs.

If it is good for cars and trucks, why not airplanes?

Two years before the Indonesian 737 crash, the Guardian published an article titled “Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster” that it clearly anticipated. Interestingly enough, it was not even a Boeing plane that was discussed in the article. It was an Airbus 330 that had the same kind of systems as the Boeing NCAS. With pilots much more used to relying on automation than manual control of the plane, they failed to override the system that was forcing the plane to plunge into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009 at about 125 miles an hour. Everyone on board, 228 passengers and crew, died instantly.

While pilots flying to major airports will continue to be highly paid, the wages of those working for regional airlines has fallen drastically. In 2010, the Guardian reported on “A pilot’s life: exhausting hours for meagre wages”. They lead a decidedly unglamorous life:

Many are forced to fly half way around the country before they even begin work. Others sleep in trailers at the back of Los Angeles airport, in airline lounges across the country or even on the floors of their own planes. Some co-pilots, who typically take home about $20,000 (£12,500) a year, hold down second jobs to make ends meet.

All that will change when airplanes go the route of driverless cars as the NY Times reported last July in an article titled “Are You Ready to Fly Without a Human Pilot?” In the same fashion that Trump backed driverless trucks, the move toward pilotless planes seems inexorable:

Regulators are already taking steps toward downsizing the role of humans on the flight deck. The bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration included language to provide funding to study single-pilot operations for cargo planes, a move that the Air Line Pilots Association opposed. Captain Canoll said that a single-pilot aircraft must be safe to fly without anyone at the controls in case the pilot takes a bathroom break or becomes incapacitated.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum, there was a big focus on artificial intelligence and robotics. On the website, you can findbreathless articlesabout “Meet Stan: the robot valet that parks your car at the airport” and “US companies created a record number of robot workers in 2018”. In a Washington Post article on the WEF, the title betrayed a certain unease about the replacement of human beings by robots: The aristocrats are out of touch’: Davos elites believe the answer to inequality is ‘upskilling’.It cited Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman about how to keep the masses docile: “The lack of education in those areas in digital is absolutely shocking. That has to be changed. That will very much lessen the inequalities that people have in terms of job opportunities.”

What world are these people living in? Schwarzman has a 32-room penthouse in 740 Park Avenue and spent $5 million for his birthday party in 2017. He just made a gift of $1 billion to MIT to launch a new school for Artificial Intelligence. Is that supposed to create jobs? Maybe for someone with an MIT degree who will go to work writing software to replace the people working for Jeff Bezos’s slave labor-like warehouses with machines but what is someone out of a job at an Amazon warehouse then supposed to do? Apply to MIT?

The handwriting is on the wall. The USA is moving into a two-tiered system. In places like NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, you get people working in high-tech industries that in contrast to the Fordist model of the 1930s employ far fewer bodies. Meanwhile, in Detroit, Cleveland, and other places where Fordism once held sway, the jobs are there if you are willing to work at Walmarts, at local hospitals emptying bedpans or as guards in a jail or prison. Class divisions between those with advanced technology skills and those left out will only increase, leading to the kind of showdown taking place in France between the neoliberal state and the Yellow Vests.

You get a feel for the Two Americas reading a March 7thNY Times article titled “Thousands of New Millionaires Are About to Eat San Francisco Alive”:

In cities like Oakland and Berkeley and San Francisco, millennials obsess over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter and attend Democratic Socialists of America meetings. But the socialist passion doesn’t seem to have impacted the city’s zeal for I.P.O. parties, which the party planning community says are going to surpass past booms.

Jay Siegan, a former live music club owner who now curates private entertainment and music, is gearing up. He has worked on events for many of the I.P.O. hopefuls, including Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Postmates and Lyft.

“We see multiple parties per I.P.O. for the company that is, as well as firms that are associated to them,” Mr. Siegan said. Budgets for start-up parties, he said, can easily go above $10 million. “They’re wanting to bring in A-list celebrities to perform at the dinner tables for the executives. They want ballet performers.”

The only comment I would add to this tale of two cities is that it would not be surprising if some of these high-flying technology workers might also plan to vote for Bernie Sanders. They probably don’t feel happy about living in a city where their wealth has driven up the cost of housing to the point that homelessness is an epidemic. Whether President Sanders can do much about these class divisions is open to debate.

The replacement of human labor by machinery has been described as “creative destruction”. The assumption is that the temporary pain is worth it since there will always be the growth of new jobs. As my seventh grade social studies put it, the invention of the automobile put the blacksmith out of work but it created far more jobs in a Ford plant.

On May 12, 2010, the New York Times ran an article by economics editor Catherine Rampell titled “The New Poor: In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Are Left Behind”that focused on the largely middle-aged unemployed who will probably never work again. For example, 52 year old administrative assistant Cynthia Norton has been working part-time at Walmart while sending resumes everywhere but nobody gets back to her. She is part of a much bigger picture:

Ms. Norton is one of 1.7 million Americans who were employed in clerical and administrative positions when the recession began, but were no longer working in that occupation by the end of last year. There have also been outsize job losses in other occupation categories that seem unlikely to be revived during the economic recovery. The number of printing machine operators, for example, was nearly halved from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. The number of people employed as travel agents fell by 40 percent.

But Ms. Rampell finds the silver lining in this dark cloud:

This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy.

Pruning relatively less-efficient employees like clerks and travel agents, whose work can be done more cheaply by computers or workers abroad, makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in over 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow.

The term “creative destruction” might ring a bell. It was coined by Werner Sombart in his 1913 book “War and Capitalism”. When he was young, Sombart considered himself a Marxist. His notion of creative destruction was obviously drawn from Karl Marx, who, according to some, saw capitalism in terms of the business cycle. With busts following booms, like night follows day, a new round of capital accumulation can begin. This interpretation is particularly associated with Volume Two of Capital that examines this process in great detail. Looking at this material, some Marxists like Eduard Bernstein drew the conclusion that capitalism is an infinitely self-sustaining system.

By 1913, Sombart had dumped the Marxist commitment to social revolution but still retained the idea that there was a basis in Karl Marx for upholding the need for “creative destruction”, a view buttressed by an overly positive interpretation of this passage in the Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.

By the 1930s, Sombart had adapted himself fairly well to the Nazi system although he was not gung-ho like Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt. The wiki on Sombart notes:

In 1934 he published Deutscher Sozialismus where he claimed a “new spirit” was beginning to “rule mankind”. The age of capitalism and proletarian socialism was over and with “German socialism” (National-Socialism) taking over.

But despite this, he remained critical. In 1938 he wrote an anthropology text that found fault with the Nazi system and many of his Jewish students remained fond of him.

I suspect, however, that Rampell is familiar with Joseph Schumpeter’s use of the term rather than Sombart since Schumpeter was an economist, her chosen discipline. In 1942, he wrote a book titled Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy that, like Sombart, retained much of Karl Marx’s methodology but without the political imperative to destroy the system that utilized “creative destruction”. He wrote:

The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation–if I may use that biological term–that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. . . .

The wiki on Schumpeter claims that this theory is wedded to Nikolai Kondratiev’s “long wave” hypothesis that rests on the idea that there are 50 year cycles in which capitalism grows, decays and enters a crisis until a new round of capital accumulation opens up. Not only was the idea attractive to Schumpeter, it was a key part of Ernest Mandel’s economic theories. Unlike Schumpeter, Mandel was on the lookout for social agencies that could break the cycle and put development on a new footing, one based on human need rather than private profit.

Returning to Rampell’s article, there is one dimension entirely missing. She assumes that “creative destruction” will operate once again in order to foster a new upswing in the capitalist business cycle. But how exactly will that manifest itself? All the signs point to a general decline in business activity unless there is some kind of technological breakthrough equivalent to the computer revolution that fueled growth for decades. Does anybody believe that “green manufacturing” will play the same role? I don’t myself.

One thing does occur to me. Sombart’s book was written in 1913, one year before WWI and was even titled eerily enough “War and Capitalism”. One wonders if the Great War would be seen as part and parcel of “creative destruction”. War, after all, does have a knack for clearing the playing field with even more finality than layoffs. Schumpeter wrote his in 1942, one year into WWII. My guess is that he did not theorize war as the ultimate (and necessary?) instrument of creative destruction but history will record that WWII did introduce a whole rafter of new technology, including aluminum, radar, nuclear power, etc., while bombing old modes of production into oblivion. What a great opportunity it was for capitalism to rebuild Japan, especially after firebombing and atomic bombs did their lovely work.

In my view, there’s something disgusting about this “creative destruction” business especially when it is articulated by a young, pro-capitalist Princeton graduate like Catherine Rampell who wrote for Slate, the Village Voice and other such b-list publications before crawling her way up into an editorial job at the NYT. She clearly has learned how to cater her reporting to the ideological needs of the newspaper of record, growing more and more reactionary as the crisis of capitalism deepens.

Categories: News for progressives

Union Busting on Campus: Jackson Lewis and Higher Education Anti-Unionism

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

From 2008 to 2018, few professors at the University of New Mexico—whether tenured, or tenure-track, or adjunct—received wage increases greater than the cost of living. In most of those years, wages remained stagnant, while out-of-pocket costs for health insurance and retirement contributions increased. As a result, some professors, particularly those faculty who teach on semester-to-semester or short-term contracts, make less today than they did ten years ago. Median salaries for UNM faculty, already low at all ranks and dramatically low in comparison to similar universities, continue to shrink.

Last week, after years of on-campus organizing, UNM faculty—United Academics of the University of New Mexico—filed with the local labor board to form a faculty union. Nearly 1,000 faculty signed union authorization cards. If we win the election, the more than 1,700 faculty at UNM collectively bargain with UNM over wages and working conditions.

As any educator working in higher education knows, faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The worse that things have gotten for faculty at UNM, the worse they’ve gotten for students. A decade of steep cuts to the academic mission at UNM has created a crisis in UNM’s ability to hire and retain faculty, educate students, conduct research, and serve the state of New Mexico as the flagship institution of higher learning. These cuts have convinced many faculty that UNM leadership isn’t serious about its mission. Endless austerity has shrunk the university. Year after year, UNM balances its books on the backs of faculty, staff and students. According to UNM’s interim provost in a February 13 email to all faculty, declining state support and an even sharper decline in enrollments over the past five years have cratered UNM’s budget. Revenue at UNM’s main campus “is now about $24 million less than it was in 2009.”

And last week faculty learned once again that fiscal austerity at UNM, like at most institutions of higher education, only applies to faculty and staff salaries and the university’s academic mission. In response to the faculty union effort, the University of New Mexico hired the notorious union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis. According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, Jackson Lewis “is widely known as one of the most aggressively anti-union law firms in the U.S.” It was founded in 1958 and today employs more than 900 attorneys in 58 offices in 37 states, with offices also in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

In the ten years since UNM gave its faculty even a cost-of-living raise, revenues at Jackson Lewis have more than doubled, from $196 million in 2008 to $420 million in 2018. In other words, as real wages have declined for workers in higher education, particularly for faculty at UNM, revenues at the company that invented what it calls “union avoidance” have skyrocketed.

The university has not said what it will pay Jackson Lewis. But when the University of New Hampshire hired Jackson Lewis last year to oppose faculty union organizing there, the university, a public institution similar to UNM, paid the firm nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

Jackson Lewis is not just any law firm. It is management’s go-to firm for anti-union campaigns. They’ve represented thousands of employers, including large retailers such as Ikea, manufacturers such as IBM and Boeing, and health care firms from coast to coast. In the past decade, it has moved aggressively into public-sector higher education anti-unionism. In recent years, in addition to UNH and now UNM, it has represented Barnard College, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Middlesex County College, Columbia University, Goucher College, and NYU among others. College administrators hire Jackson Lewis for the same reasons for-profit employers do: to bargain to impasse with existing unions, and, in the case of UNM, to stop unions from being formed in the first place.

Jackson Lewis charges its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars—in some cases millions of dollars—because it’s good at what it does. Its two founders got their start at a firm called Labor Relations Associates of Chicago, Inc. (LRA), which was founded in 1939 by Nathan Shefferman, a man labor historians consider the father of the “union avoidance industry.” Shefferman got his start when Sears and Roebuck hired him to oppose efforts by Sears retail clerks to unionize. Shefferman parlayed that experience into LRA, which had hundreds of clients by the 1940s. According to Professor John Logan, a prominent labor historian, “LRA consultants committed numerous illegal actions, including bribery, coercion of employees and racketeering. Congressional hearings into its activities effectively forced LRA out of business in the late 1950s. But the firm provided a training ground for other union avoidance gurus such as Louis Jackson and Robert Lewis of the law firm Jackson Lewis.”

What do you get when you hire Jackson Lewis? Jackson Lewis doesn’t just advise and consult for its clients. As Logan told a reporter, Jackson Lewis runs the entire anti-union campaign. It “basically runs the entire show,” Logan explained. “They’re writing speeches, training supervisors, making video and websites to convey the anti-union message. They script everything.”

There are thousands of law firms in the U.S. that do management-side labor law, and most do it much cheaper than Jackson Lewis, and most do not bend and break the law as Jackson Lewis has done. When a company or university hires Jackson Lewis, it’s because of its specialty at no-holds-barred anti-unionism. As Professor Logan told me when we talked on the phone, “you don’t hire Jackson Lewis if you want an agreement with a union or you want to respect your employees’ right to unionize. You hire them for their hardball tactics.” You hire Jackson Lewis if you want to delay an NLRB election. You hire Jackson Lewis for their success in “undermining union campaigns.”

Jackson Lewis is in-demand by university administrators because of its reputation, not despite of it. And Jackson Lewis’s reputation is as notorious as its origins. During union organizing at the New York Daily News, Jackson Lewis posted armed guards at factory gates in multiple states to stop union organizing efforts. It directs companies to set up forced overtime when union meetings are scheduled, as it did with Ikea. It threatens workers, as it did in its notorious, and illegal, EnerSys campaign. It intercepts the distribution of union material. It places negative stories about union officials in tabloid newspapers. It operates in a legal gray area, explained Professor Logan, and considers the subsequent legal penalties the cost of doing business. Breaking the law is part of its overall anti-union strategy. Labor busting used to be the domain of Pinkerton goons in jackboots. Now it’s Jackson Lewis lawyers in Brioni suits.

And labor busting today is not just a partisan political activity. Jackson Lewis has emerged in the past few years as a major contributor to Democratic political candidates. During the 2016 election cycle, Jackson Lewis’s political action committee handed out more than $70,000 to federal candidates. More than 60 percent of those donations went to Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA).

The University of New Mexico, according to Professor Logan, will most likely deny it’s familiar with Jackson Lewis’s reputation and claim it just needs legal representation. The latter might be true, he said, but the former is most certainly not. “The university will claim this is just a legal process and Jackson Lewis is well regarded, but it’s quite clear that most of the time, when you hire Jackson Lewis, it’s to take a hard line.” And it will be expensive. A basic anti-union campaign, as the one UNM is clearly gearing up to fight, “will cost at least a few hundred thousand dollars. It could be less, but Jackson Lewis isn’t the firm you hire if you have a budget in mind.”

While universities like UNM continue to disinvest in the academic mission, publicly-funded union busting gets a blank check.

Categories: News for progressives

A Tale of Two Carnivores: African Lions and Grizzly Bears

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:57

Lion Credit: Ewaso Lions/ Shivani Bhalla Credit: Nina Fascione/ Louisa Willcox Credit: Louisa Willcox/ Grizzly Bear Credit: Richard Spratley.

I hope one day to meet lion conservationist Shivani Bhalla, a sister in spirit who lives half a world away, in northern Kenya. We are featured in BBC’s global radio program “The Conversation,” where each episode features two women from different countries, who work in similar fields. The show airs as naturalist and filmmaker David Attenborough’s new series “Dynasties” debuts in America. This time the inimitable Attenborough brings the lives of lions, chimpanzees, tigers, painted wolves and emperor penguins into our living rooms and our hearts. Living among certain families or clans over a number of years, the crew was able to capture on film dramatic turning points in the lives of these animals of the sort that most of us will never see.

Dr. Shivani Bhalla is featured in the episode on African lions, a species that she has devoted her career to saving. I had not heard of her work or the new Attenborough series before receiving a call from the London-based BBC World Service radio producer exploring the possibility of bringing Shivani and me together by phone to share our experiences in large carnivore conservation. I don’t know much about lions and less about Kenya’s Samburu culture. Producing a podcast too has made me intimately familiar with the challenges of such an undertaking, and here I was vaulted to the top of the league. Both nervous and groggy at the ungodly early recording hour, I doubted my mind would connect to my mouth.

But as soon as we started to chat, my brain kicked in and the continents between Shivani, host Kim Chakanetsa and me vanished. For the next hour, I felt like I was having coffee with colleagues. The flow was interrupted only once when Kim chided Shivani for clapping – while my reaction was one of delight.

The challenges we face are uncannily similar: protected areas too small for the wide-ranging carnivores that depend on them, mounting human encroachment, and a warming climate. With extremely low birth rates, grizzlies and lions are at the mercy of humans like never before.

I was dismayed to learn that even in Kenya the lion population now numbers less than 2,000 individuals. Having declined by nearly 50% in the past few decades, African lions could become extinct within the next 20 years if current trends continue.  In the case of grizzlies, we may have stopped the downward spiral for now, but they are still limited to only 3% of their former range in the lower-48 states, and the future looks ominous.

Don’t Play with the Lion’s Tail

This Bushman’s saying speaks to the challenges of carnivore coexistence. No matter what the species, we humans share a tendency to invite trouble, at times unknowingly. It did not take long to realize that Shivani and I were on a shared journey to help people find alternatives to playing with the lion’s tail. This means careful husbandry of livestock, especially at night. Early warning systems to alert people to the presence of carnivores, such as guard dogs. Preparedness for encounters. For omnivorous grizzlies (compared to strictly carnivorous lions) it’s also vital to keep garbage and human foods out of bruins’ reach.

None of this is rocket science. On the outside, the practice of coexistence can look deceptively simple. Indeed, some may shrug off the work as a fluffy luxury, while others may support the work but have no idea what goes into it.

For people like Shivani and me, the work of saving imperilled predators gives our lives meaning. These animals are intelligent, resourceful, caring and strong in ways we can only admire. For millennia, humans have looked to lions and bears as teachers, mentors and guides. And the more we study these animals, the more they show us how their ecosystems fit together – and the more they surprise, humble and astonish us.

Most people have no clue about the challenges associated with saving animals with big teeth. The drive to kill rather than coexist can be overwhelming, and conflict situations involving property can be as emotional as economic. Coexistence is far more complicated than it seems.

To another practitioner, the ingredients of success resemble the definition of pornography: you know it when you see it. From our conversation and my readings about Shivani’s work (check out her facebook site), I could tell that she has what it takes: a bubbly personality, smarts, courage, good listening skills and social instincts, with a dash of pixy dust.

Of Charm and Mama Simba

Attenborough’s episode featuring lions centers on Charm, a mother lioness who, abandoned by the males, has to bear the burden of hunting, feeding and protecting her cubs. With the male guards gone and other large carnivores lurking, how will she eat and keep her babies safe? Charm’s challenge is perhaps not unlike a single mom in Chicago or Nairobi: we relate to her plight.

In northern Kenya, lions are killed largely because of conflicts over livestock that Masai pastoralists depend on. With nearly half of rural Kenyans living below the poverty line, every cow matters. Although ranchers in Greater Yellowstone also feel strongly about keeping their cows alive, the economics of the situations could not be more different. Here, despite appearances, most ranchers operating in this ecosystem are running cows more or less as a hobby and to maintain certain lifestyle. They can better afford to lose a cow or two.

Lion-related conflicts are exacerbated by the onset of the rainy season. During the dry season, lions’ natural prey, such as impalas and gazelles, congregate near water making them easier prey for lions. When the rainy season begins, the prey become stronger and disperse, making hunting harder.  As the lions follow prey, they bump into livestock at higher rates, with predictable outcomes from people equipped with poisons, guns, and less often today, spears.

Conflicts with grizzlies also vary seasonally, often spiking during late summer and fall as bears kick into their hyperphagic feeding frenzy to fatten up before the winter. Conflicts with big game hunters and livestock operators have been increasing over the last 15 years in the wake of the collapse of several key natural foods, cutthroat trout and whitebark pine, due to disease and climate change. To compensate, grizzlies are turning to eating more meat – and are being killed as a consequence at a rate that scientists maintain is unsustainable.

Improving husbandry practices in both landscapes is essential, which means knowing a lot about the behavior of the carnivores. I have written elsewhere about successful coexistence work among Montana ranchers in the Blackfoot drainage, Tom Miner basin, and along the Rocky Mountain Front. Electric fence, bear spray, and carcass composting systems help, but are no replacement for vigilance and responsibility.

Similarly, Shivani and her team are focused on night penning of livestock and reducing prospects of revenge killing after the rare occasions when lions do kill cows. Of particular importance, they are training Samburu warrior societies to collect data on lion and prey locations and movements. One of Shivani’s right hand men, Jeneria, seems to be a walking statin drug in his ability to lower the blood pressure in communities after livestock are killed.  Exercising restraint can be every bit as tough as killing a lion with a spear.

I am especially inspired by Shivani’s story about her work with Samburu women who historically have had limited involvement in wildlife conservation. She shared the hilarious moment when two traditional women barged into her camp one day saying: “Shivani, you’re the only woman in this whole group of men and you’re successful, so why can’t we do this work too?” They ended up designing and leading “Mama Simba” (“mother of lions”), a growing network of women who work to build support for the rare cats.

The peripheral benefits are huge too: women are learning to read and have started enterprises that feature recycling and selling bead work. And one leader, Munteli, learned to drive a car after Shivani gave her a few initial lessons on an air strip. Shivani says that while the women were once shy, now “you cannot shut them up.”

Shivani focused more on fencing of livestock kraals, or enclosures, while I talked more about bear-proof dumpsters and garbage. But both of us kept circling back to the cultural context of the work. Though our experiences could not seem more different at one level, we had learned that if communities don’t care about large carnivores and agree to resolve conflicts nonlethally, lions and grizzlies are done for.

In the end, coexistence, and conservation generally, is not fundamentally a technical problem, it is a social and cultural one. David Attenborough put his finger on it: “Many individuals are doing what they can. But real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.”

The Value of Unbroken Cultural Connections

Shivani and other conservationists in East Africa have the advantage of working with unbroken cultures rooted in a specific landscape. Traditional reverence for lions runs deep. Until relatively recently, hunting a lion with a spear was a rite of passage for young warriors. A Samburu man with a lion cape around his neck was, well, a dude. The point is that anger about losing a valuable cow can be diffused with ancient cultural pride in lions.

That is less the case in the American West, where Plains Indian warriors traditionally donned bear-claw necklaces for similar reasons. Here, European settlers did their damnedest to destroy pre-existing indigenous cultures that held grizzlies to be sacred and understood how the ecological system worked and how people fit in. My ancestors helped commit multiple genocides in a way that did not occur in most of East Africa. In so doing, they replaced traditional connections to land and wild animals with a still-dominant culture rooted in control and violence.  Individual rights became more important than collective responsibility. Think John Wayne.

But the ethos of Manifest Destiny is comparatively recent. With the exception of the Southwest, European roots in the American West date back little more than 4-6 generations.

I have been bemused at how reference to “fourth generations” is thrown around at hearings to assert legitimacy, overlooking the fact that Native Americans have been here for maybe 100 times that number.    As in: “I am a fourth generation Montana rancher, and my granddaddy worked to kill off the last grizzlies to make it safe for ranching. We don’t need them!”

Few today know the story of the Woman Who Married the Bear – about a woman who fell in love with a man who was, in reality a bear, and gave birth to shapeshifting sons. Still, this story of our connectedness has been told across the northern Hemisphere for perhaps 15,000 years from Greece to Siberia and the Yukon.

American Indians neither gratuitously killed nor, for the most part, ate grizzly bears. They consider them to be relatives. It is no surprise that Tribal people were at the fore of the recent campaign to prevent a trophy grizzly bear hunt and restore federal protections. To them and many others, mounting the head of a grizzly on a wall as a trophy is simply an anathema.

Indeed, the U.S. Endangered Species Act is fundamentally a story about the intrinsic worth of species and the need to prevent harm and extinction.  But the law is overlaid on a relatively new culture that still, at root, embodies the ethos of domination, like a saddle on an untamed horse. ESA rodeos can erupt, especially with high-profile species that need a lot of room and place demands on us — like the grizzly.

Of Courts and Kraals  

Our conversation paused briefly when I spoke about my experience with litigation. As with other environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act also protects the right of ordinary citizens like me to challenge the government and corporations in court.

To Shivani and conservationists in other countries, litigation is a bit of a head scratcher. Indeed, a focus on suing the government or corporations seems to be a uniquely American phenomenon, rooted in our fierce streak of independence and deep suspicion of government authority.

If left to the mercy of local white ranchers, hunters, and wildlife managers, we might have no grizzlies left in the lower 48 states – even though our parks and preserves are the envy of the world. That is because of the influence of relatively few powerful bad actors, large corporations bent on developing bear habitat, and a too-often complacent government.   Courts have helped level the playing field and curb abuses of power.

Of course, litigation is no panacea in our gun-oriented culture. For example, right after the decision last fall by a federal district court judge to reinstate ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears, we saw a spike in revenge killing of grizzlies, with bear deaths breaking records last year. You can win in court and lose the war.

In the end, people like Shivani and me must rely on good will and pride in native wildlife. We are both seeing progress. In Shivani’s Westgate Community Conservancy area, for example, lions are back after a number of years of absence. In the Northern Rockies, grizzlies are showing up in landscapes near Yellowstone and Glacier Parks where they have not been seen for decades.

Does being a woman have anything to do with success?

The Problem of Silverbacks

Shivani and I work in an arena traditionally dominated by men. She writes: “As a university student I always saw what I call the ‘silverbacks’ – these old men who seemed to be at the top of the field and I thought are we all supposed to work for them? So I stepped out of that silverback thinking… I started with 3000 dollars, a car, a camera and a computer.  It’s totally possible!”

I have had my share of silverback superiors too, as had Kim. Both Shivani and Kim laughed at my stories about testifying before state game commissions, mostly white males with antipathy for large carnivores, who sat with their arms crossed eyes rolling. Sisters in an experience as ancient as it is widespread.

Shivani and her colleagues have also tackled the “problem of the silverbacks” by creating the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance, a network of women with expertise in large carnivore conservation in East Africa, who banded together to not only reduce competition for funding and media exposure, but also to maximize opportunities for learning from each other.  What a cool idea.

Looking back, cooperation and community – feminine traits – are important to success, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a woman. But being more Mama Simba than John Wayne helps.

Killing Gaia

Although the “John Wayne” problem predates Hollywood, it is still surprisingly recent. Hominoids first got upright in Kenya’s Rift Valley perhaps 4 million years ago, but we were nomadic until only about the last 10,000 years — the evolutionary blink of an eye. The domestication of plants and animals during the Neolithic meant that we had things and places to protect from animals, weather, and other people. We began building walls to keep out “the other.” We told stories about “good animals” like sheep and cows, and “bad animals” like wolves and bears. Today we may seek the wild to restore our souls, but back then “wildeor” denoted places filled with fearful wild beasts.

Before I went into conservation, I thought about pursuing archaeology, working for the British Institute of Archaeology in Greece and Turkey, where the domestication of livestock began. Archaeological records in Europe show that once the Neolithic rolled around, we no longer relied on the feminine principle in the same way. Fat female sculptures, sometimes referred to as the Goddess “Gaia” for Mother Earth, have been unearthed throughout Europe, dating as far back as 35,000 years ago. But when humans settled down to farm, male iconography became more prevalent, as did hierarchical societies. Wilderness shrank. Weapons improved. Men gravitated to the top of social, economic, and religious systems.

But still stories of intimate relations with wild animals survived. What Shivani and other women in conservation are doing, perhaps unconsciously, is breathing new life into ancient stories. Mama Simba and the Woman Who Married a Bear resonate because they tap into the magic of age-old interspecies connections.

Not surprisingly, lions are driving flocks of tourists to Kenya, just as grizzlies inspire record numbers of families to visit Yellowstone each year. Their rarity enhances the fact they are such cool animals.

Old Stories, New Approaches

In Better Angels of Our Nature, author Stephen Pinker emphasizes that over the course of our evolutionary journey, humans have become relatively less violent, affording rights to an ever-widening sphere of people who share different religions, races, genders, even age.  Even though more and more of us are peopling this planet, if you are a lion or a bear these changes in human attitudes and behaviors could be good news.

The dangers of large carnivores attacking humans did not come up in our conversation at all although, yes, people are occasionally—rarely—killed by lions and bears. Maybe this is a sign of how far we have come, or maybe it was the sample size of three people. I think gender and education had something to do with it.

Although a recent article on “killer” grizzlies in Ammoland Magazine included 20 comments mostly about guns and which work best to kill a bear – all by guys of course – such stories are not as widespread as they were when I first started this work 35 years ago.  Which is a good thing as the human population continues to skyrocket and the planet warms.

Last month, at 92, David Attenborough made an urgent plea for businesses and governments to address climate change at the World Economic forum in Davos, saying: “The Holocene is over. The Garden of Eden is no more. We have changed the world so much that scientists say we are now in a new geological age – The Anthropocene – The Age of Humans.” He called for people to use their unique problem-solving skills in new ways to find practical solutions to climate change, adding that what we do in the next few years will profoundly affect the next millennium. “We haven’t yet applied ourselves to this problem with the focus that it requires.”

So true. And, as Sir David and my conversation with Shivani and Kim remind me, we need skilled and conscientious people more than ever inside and outside government, in media rooms and classrooms, on court benches and corporate boards, in villages and cities—all caring about the natural world. We may not be able to resurrect The Garden of Eden, but we can keep this Earth habitable for us, our children, and wild animals. In the end, the spirit of Gaia, nurturing Mother Earth, may help us more than worship of rampant capitalism.

As marvelous as Attenborough’s films are, I pray that the exposure of younger generations to nature is not limited to the screen.  Still, I am looking forward to seeing Shivani in action and finding out if Charms and her cubs make it.  Onward, Mama Simbas!

Categories: News for progressives

Chasing Mirages: What Are Palestinians Doing to Combat the ‘Deal of the Century’?

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:56

Palestinian refugees (British Mandate of Palestine – 1948). “Making their way from Galilee in October-November 1948”

More US measures have been taken in recent weeks to further cement the Israeli position and isolate the Palestinian Authority (PA), before the official unveiling of President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’. But while attention is focused on spiteful US actions, little time has been spent discussing the PA’s own responses, options and strategies.

The last of Washington’s punitive measures came on March 3, when the US shut down its Consulate in Jerusalem, thus downgrading the status of its diplomatic mission in Palestine. The Consulate has long served as a de-facto American embassy to the Palestinians. Now, the Consulate’s staff will merge into the US embassy in Israel, which was officially moved to Jerusalem last May – in violation of international consensus regarding the status of the occupied city.

Robert Palladino, US State Department spokesperson, explained the move in a statement, saying that “this decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations.”

Diplomatic hogwash aside, ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ have nothing to do with the shutting of the Consulate. The decision is but a continuation of successive US measures aimed at “taking Jerusalem off the table” – as per Trump’s own words – of any future negotiations.

International law, which recognizes East Jerusalem as an occupied Palestinian city, is of no relevance to the Trump administration, which has fully shed any semblance of balance as it is now wholly embracing the Israeli position on Jerusalem.

To bring Palestinians into line, and to force their leadership to accept whatever bizarre version of ‘peace’ Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has in mind, the US has already taken several steps aimed at intimidating the PA. These steps include the cutting of $200 million in direct aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and the freezing of another $300 million dollars that were provided annually to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

That, and the shutting down of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington DC, on September 10, were all the signs needed to fully fathom the nature of the US ultimatum to the Palestinian leadership: accept our terms or face the consequences.

It is no secret that various US governments have served as the financial and even political backers of the PA in Ramallah. While the PA has not always seen eye-to-eye with US foreign policy, its survival remained, till recently, a top American priority.

The PA has helped Washington sustain its claim to being an ‘honest peace broker’, thus enjoying a position of political leadership throughout the Middle East region.

Moreover, by agreeing to take part in assisting the Israeli military in policing the Occupied Territories through joint US-funded ‘security coordination’, the PA has proved its trustworthiness to its US benefactors.

While the PA remained committed to that arrangement, Washington reneged.

According to the far-right Israeli government coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu, PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is simply not doing enough.

‘Doing enough’, from an Israeli political perspective, is for Palestinians to drop any claims to occupied East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine, accept that illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank would have to remain in place regardless of the nature of the future ‘peace agreement’, and to also drop any legal or moral claims pertaining to Palestinian refugees right of return.

While the PA has demonstrated its political and moral flexibility in the past, there are certain red lines that even Abbas himself cannot cross.

It remains to be seen how the PA position will evolve in the future as far as the soon-to-be announced ‘deal of the century’ is concerned.

Yet, considering that Trump’s blind support for Israel has been made quite clear over the course of the last two years, one is bewildered by the fact that Abbas and his government have done little by way of counteracting Washington’s new aggressive strategy targeting the Palestinians.

Save for a few symbolic ‘victories’ at the United Nations and UN-related bodies, Abbas has done little by way of a concrete and unified Palestinian action.

Frankly, recognizing a Palestinian state on paper is not a strategy, per se. The push for greater recognition has been in the making since the PLO Algiers conference in 1988, when the Palestine National Council declared a Palestinian state to the jubilation of millions around the world. Many countries, especially in the global south, quickly recognized the State of Palestine.

Yet, instead of using such a symbolic declaration as a component of a larger strategy aimed at realizing this independence on the ground, the PA simply saw the act of recognizing Palestine as an end in itself. Now, there are 137 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. Sadly, however, much more Palestinian land has been stolen by Israel to expand on or build new Jewish-only colonies on the land designated to be part of that future state.

It should have been clear, by now, that placing a Palestinian flag on a table at some international conference, or even having a Palestine chair at the G77 UN coalition of developing countries, is not a substitute for a real strategy of national liberation.

The two main Palestinian factions, Abbas’ own Fatah party and Hamas, are still as diverged as ever. In fact, Abbas seems to focus more energy on weakening his political rivals in Palestine than on combating the Israeli Occupation. In recent weeks, Abbas has taken yet more punitive financial measures targeting various sectors of Gaza society. The collective punishment is even reaching families of prisoners and those killed by the Israeli army.

Without a united front, a true strategy or any form of tangible resistance, Abbas is now vulnerable to more US pressure and manipulation. Yet, instead of moving quickly to solidify the Palestinian front, and to reach out to genuine allies in the Middle East and worldwide to counter the bitter US campaign, Abbas has done little.

Instead, the Palestinian leader continues to chase political mirages, taking every opportunity to declare more symbolic victories that he needs to sustain his legitimacy among Palestinians for a while longer.

The painful truth, however, is this: it is not just US bullying that has pushed the PA into this unenviable position, but, sadly, the self-serving nature and political bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership itself.

Categories: News for progressives

An Apology for a Different Plane Crash, 30 Years Later

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:55

The tragic Ethiopian Airline plane crash recalls another passenger plane crash some 30 years ago. The latter, however, was not due to a mechanical malfunction but to U.S. missiles. And while very few Americans remember this incident, it still weighs heavy on the hearts of many Iranians–as we discovered on our recent trip there.

The tragic downing of the commercial passenger airline, Iran Air Flight 655, happened on July 3, 1988. A U.S. Navy ship called the Vincennes was stationed in the Persian Gulf to protect oil trade routes. The plane had just taken off from nearby Bandar Abbas International Airport in southern Iran when U.S. personnel on the warship fired two surface-to-air missiles. The flight was still in Iranian airspace, climbing on its regularly scheduled flight to Dubai, when it was hit. The plane disintegrated immediately and crashed into the water, killing all 290 onboard–274 passengers and 16 crew members.

According to the U.S. government, this was an accident: the crew thought the Iranian Airbus A300 was an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter jet.

Most Iranians, however, believe it was a deliberate war crime. Earlier that day, the same U.S. ship had sunk two Iranian gunboats in Iranian waters and damaged a third.

The Iranian belief that the passenger plane was attacked on purpose was reinforced when the U.S. government made a series of inaccurate claims. One claim was that the plane was not on a normal flight path but was diving toward the ship; the truth is that the plane was climbing, and was on its correct path. Another was that the plane’s identification transponder was not working or had been altered; the truth is that the plane had actually been emitting, by radio, the standard commercial identifying data.

Months before the plane was shot down, air traffic controllers and the crews of other warships in the Persian Gulf had been warning that poorly trained U.S. crews, especially the gung-ho captain and crew of the Vincennes (or “Robocruiser,” as other crews had nicknamed it), were constantly misidentifying civilian aircraft over the Persian Gulf, making this horrific incident entirely predictable.

The U.S. Navy added insult to injury when, two years later, it awarded combat medals to the warship’s captain and crew–never even mentioning the downing of the plane. The town of Vincennes, Indiana, for which the ship was named, even launched a fundraising campaign for a monument to honor the ship and its crew.

Particularly callous was a statement by then Vice-President George H.W. Bush, who was campaigning for president at the time. “I will never apologize for the United States of America. Ever,” he insisted, “I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”

While U.S. officials refused to accept culpability, in 1996 the Iranians took to the U.S. government to the International Court of Justice. With all the evidence against the Vincennes, the U.S. government agreed to a settlement, granting $213,000 per passenger to the victims’ families. But the government still refused to formally apologize or acknowledge wrongdoing.

While most Americans have no memory of this incident, in Iran the date of the deaths of 290 innocent people at the hands of the U.S. military is marked every year just as the 9/11 attack is remembered every year in the United States. To some Iranians, it is just one more example of the callousness of U.S. policy.

That’s why our peace delegation that visited Iran in early March decided to make a special gift to the Peace Museum in Tehran, a museum dedicated to ending war. It was a hand-crafted commemorative book crafted by one of our delegates, Barbara Briggs-Letson, who is an 85-year-old retired American nurse from San Francisco. It contained a letter of remorse, verses of poetry, the names—in Farsi—of all those who lost their lives, and individual notes from the 28 members of our delegation.

The moving ceremony at the Peace Museum left all of us, Americans and Iranians, weeping. We made it clear that while our government won’t apologize for its dirty deeds in Iran—from overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 to shooting down a passenger plane in 1988 to unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear agreement in 2017—we, the people, will.

Categories: News for progressives

School Shooters and Drones: Linking Gun Violence to America’s Wars

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:54

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair of Edna Chavez

In the wake of the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, a teacher said the school looked “like a war zone.” And to many young Americans, that’s exactly what it felt like. But this shooting was different. Refusing to be victims, Parkland survivors disrupted the “thoughts and prayers” cycle by immediately rallying student activists and adults across the country, mobilizing them around such tragedies and the weapons of war that often facilitate them.

Recent history suggested that such a movement, sure to be unable to keep the public’s attention or exert significant pressure on lawmakers, would collapse almost instantly. Yet, miraculously enough, the same fear — of their school being next — that had kept young Americans paralyzed for almost 20 years was what drove these newly impassioned activists not to back down.

Let me say that, much as I admire them, I look at their remarkable movement from an odd perspective. You see, I grew up in the “school-shooting era” and now work for a non-profit called ReThink Media tracking coverage of the American drone war that has been going on for 17 years.

To me, the U.S. military and CIA drones that hover constantly over eight countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and regularly terrorize, maim, and kill civilians, including children, are the equivalents of the disturbed shooters in American schools. But that story is hard to find anywhere in this country. What reports Americans do read about those drone strikes usually focus on successes (a major terrorist taken out in a distant land), not the “collateral damage.”

With that in mind, let me return to those teenage activists against gun violence who quickly grasped three crucial things. The first was that such violence can’t be dealt with by focusing on gun control alone. You also have to confront the other endemic problems exacerbating the gun violence epidemic, including inadequate mental health resources, systemic racism and police brutality, and the depth of economic inequality. As Parkland teen organizer Edna Chavez explained, “Instead of police officers we should have a department specializing in restorative justice. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face and come to an understanding of how to resolve them.”

The second was that, no matter how much you shouted, you had to be aware of the privilege of being heard. In other words, when you shouted, you had to do so not just for yourself but for all those voices so regularly drowned out in this country. After all, black Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims. Black children are 10 times as likely to die by gun and yet their activism on the subject has been largely demonized or overlooked even as support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students rolled in.

The third was that apathy is the enemy of progress, which means that to make change you have to give people a sense of engagement and empowerment. As one of the Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez, put it: “What matters is that the majority of American people have become complacent in a senseless injustice that occurs all around them.”

Washington’s Expanding Drone Wars

Here’s the irony, though: while those teenagers continue to talk about the repeated killing of innocents in this country, their broader message could easily be applied to another type of violence that, in all these years, Americans have paid next to no attention to: the U.S. drone war.

Unlike school shootings, drone strikes killing civilians in distant lands rarely make the news here, much less the headlines. Most of us at least now know what it means to live in a country where school shootings are an almost weekly news story. Drones are another matter entirely, and beyond the innocents they so regularly slaughter, there are long-term effects on the communities they are attacking.

As Veterans for Peace put it, “Here at home, deaths of students and others killed in mass shootings and gun violence, including suicide gun deaths, are said to be the price of freedom to bear arms. Civilian casualties in war are written off as ‘collateral damage,’ the price of freedom and U.S. security.”

And yet, after 17 years, three presidents, and little transparency, America’s drone wars have never truly made it into the national conversation. Regularly marketed over those years as “precise” and “surgical,” drones have always been seen by lawmakers as a “sexy,” casualty-free solution to fighting the bad guys, while protecting American blood and treasure.

According to reports, President Trump actually expanded the U.S. global drone war, while removing the last shreds of transparency about what those drones are doing — and even who’s launching them. One of his first orders on entering the Oval Office was to secretly reinstate the CIA’s ability to launch drone strikes that are, in most cases, not even officially acknowledged. And since then, it’s only gotten worse. Just last week, he revoked an Obama-era executive order that required the director of national intelligence to release an annual report on civilian and combatant casualties caused by CIA drones and other lethal operations. Now, not only are the rules of engagement — whom you can strike and under what circumstances — secret, but the Pentagon no longer even reveals when drones have been used, no less when civilians die from them. Because of this purposeful opaqueness, even an estimate of the drone death toll no longer exists.

Still, in the data available on all U.S. airstrikes since Trump was elected, an alarming trend is discernible: there are more of them, more casualties from them, and ever less accountability about them. In Iraq and Syria alone, the monitoring group Airwars believes that the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is responsible for between 7,468 and 11,841 civilian deaths, around 2,000 of whom were children. (The U.S.-led coalition, however, only admits to killing 1,139 civilians.)

In Afghanistan, the U.N. recently found that U.S. airstrikes (including drone strikes) had killed approximately the same number of Afghan civilians in 2018 as in the previous three years put together. In response to this report, the U.S.-led NATO mission there claimed that “all feasible precautions” were being taken to limit civilian casualties and that it investigates all allegations of their occurrence. According to such NATO investigations, airstrikes by foreign forces caused 117 civilian casualties last year, including 62 deaths — about a fifth of the U.N. tally.

And those are only the numbers for places where Washington is officially at war. In Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Libya, even less information is available on the number of civilians the U.S. has killed. Experts who track drone strikes in such gray areas of conflict, however, place that number in the thousands, though there is no way to confirm them, as even our military acknowledges. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, put it this way last year: “As far as how do we know how many civilians were killed, I am just being honest, no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there’s no possible way.”

After a U.S. strike killed or injured an entire Afghan family, the trauma surgeon treating a four-year-old survivor told NBC, “I am sad. A young boy with such big injuries. No eyes, brain out. What will be his future?”

In other words, while America’s teenagers fight in the most public way possible for their right to live, a world away Afghanistan’s teenagers are marching for the same thing — except instead of gun control, in that heavily armed land, they want peace.

Trauma is Trauma is Trauma

Gun violence — and school shootings in particular — have become the preeminent fear of American teenagers. A Pew poll taken last year found that 57% of teens are worried about a shooting at their school. (One in four are “very worried.”) This is even truer of nonwhite teens, with roughly two-thirds of them expressing such fear.

As one student told Teen Vogue: “How could you not feel a little bit terrified knowing that it happens so randomly and so often?” And she’s not exaggerating. More than 150,000 students in the U.S have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, considered the first modern mass school shooting.

And in such anticipatory anxiety, American students have much in common with victims of drone warfare. Speaking to researchers from Stanford University, Haroon Quddoos, a Pakistani taxi driver who survived two U.S. drone strikes, explained it this way:

“No matter what we are doing, that fear is always inculcated in us. Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing… cards — no matter what we are doing, we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.”

Similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress, trauma, and anxiety are commonplace emotions in countries where U.S. drones are active, just as in American communities like Parkland that have lived through a mass shooting. Visiting communities in Yemen that experienced drone strikes, forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld found that 92% of their inhabitants were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with children the most significantly affected. Psychologists have come up with similar figures when studying both survivors of school shootings and children who have been psychologically affected by school-lockdown drills, by the media’s focus on violence, and by the culture of fear that has developed in response to mass shootings.

The Voices Left Out of the Conversation

The Parkland students have created a coherent movement that brings together an incredibly diverse group united around a common goal and a belief that all gun violence victims, not just those who have experienced a mass shooting, need to be heard. As one Parkland survivor and leader of the March For Our Lives movement, David Hogg, put it, the goal isn’t to talk for different communities, but to let them “speak for themselves and ask them how we can help.”

The Parkland survivors have essentially created an echo chamber, amplifying the previously unheard voices of young African-Americans and Latinos in particular. At last year’s March For Our Lives, for instance, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler started her speech this way: “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news.”

In 2016, there were nearly 39,000 gun deaths, more than 14,000 of them homicides and almost 23,000 suicides. Such routine gun violence disproportionately affects black Americans. Mass shootings accounted for only about 1.2% of all gun deaths that year. Yet the Parkland students made headlines and gained praise for their activism — Oprah Winfrey even donated $500,000 to the movement — while black communities that had been fighting gun violence for years never received anything similar.

As someone who spends a lot of her time engrossed in the undercovered news of drone strikes, I can’t help but notice the parallels. Stories about U.S. drone strikes taking out dangerous terrorists proliferate, while reports on U.S.-caused civilian casualties disappear into the void. For example, in January, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command claimed that a precision drone strike finally killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind behind the deadly October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Within a day, more than 24 media outlets had covered the story.

Few, however, focused on the fact that the U.S. command only claimed al-Badawi’s death was “likely,” despite similar reports about such terrorists that have repeatedly been proven wrong. The British human rights group Reprieve found back in 2014 that even when drone operators end up successfully targeting specific individuals like al-Badawi, they regularly kill vastly more people than their chosen targets. Attempts to kill 41 terror figures, Reprieve reported, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people. That was five years ago, but there’s no reason to believe anything has changed.

In contrast, when a U.S. airstrike — it’s not clear whether it was a drone or a manned aircraft — killed at least 20 civilians in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in December, 2018, only four American media outlets (Reuters, the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the New York Times) covered the story and none followed up with a report on those civilians and their families. That has largely been the norm since the war on terror began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In the Trump years so far, while headlines scream about mass school shootings and other slaughters of civilians here, the civilian casualties of America’s wars and the drone strikes that often go with them are, if anything, even more strikingly missing in action in the media.

When Safa al-Ahmad, a journalist for PBS’s Frontline, was asked why she thought it was important to hear from Yemenis experiencing American drone strikes, she responded:

“I think if you’re going to talk about people, you should go talk to them. It’s just basic respect for other human beings. It really bothered me that everyone was just talking about the Americans… The other civilians, they weren’t given any names, they weren’t given any details. It was like an aside to the story… This is part of the struggle when you construct stories on foreign countries, when it comes to the American public. I think we’ve done [Americans] a disservice, by not doing more of this… We impact the world, we should understand it. An informed public is the only way there can be a functioning democracy. That is our duty as a democracy, to be informed.”

This one-sided view of America’s never-ending air wars fails everyone, from the people being asked to carry out Washington’s decisions in those lands to ordinary Americans who have little idea what’s being done in their name to the many people living under those drones. Americans should know that, to them, it’s we who seem like the school shooters of the planet.

Waking Up An Apathetic Nation

For the better part of two decades, young Americans have been trapped in a cycle of violence at home and abroad with little way to speak out. Gun violence in this country was a headline-grabbing given. School shootings, like so many other mass killings here, were deemed “tragic” and worthy of thoughts, prayers, and much fervid media attention, but little else.

Until Parkland.

What changed? Well, a new cohort, Generation Z, came on the scene and, unlike their millennial predecessors, many of them are refusing to accept the status quo, especially when it comes to issues like gun violence.

Every time there was a mass shooting, millennials would hold their breath, wondering if today would be the day the country finally woke up. After Newtown. After San Bernadino. After Las Vegas. And each time, it wasn’t. Parkland could have been the same, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. Having witnessed the dangers of apathy, Gen-Z seems increasingly to be about movement and action. In fact, in a Vice youth survey, 71% of respondents reported feeling “capable” of enacting change around global warming and 85% felt the same about social problems. And that’s new.

For so long, gun violence seemed like an unstoppable, incurable plague. Fed up with the “adults in the room,” however, these young activists have begun to take matters into their own hands, giving those particularly at risk of gun violence, children, a sense of newfound power — the power to determine their own futures. Whether it’s testifying in front of Congress in the first hearing on gun violence since 2011, protesting at the stores and offices of gun manufacturers, or participating in “die-ins,” these kids are making their voices heard.

Since the Parkland massacre, there has been actual movement on gun control, something that America has not seen for a long time. Under pressure, the Justice Department moved to ban the bump stocks that can make semi-automatic weapons fire almost like machine guns, Florida signed a $400 million bill to tighten the state’s gun laws, companies began to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and public support grew for stricter gun control laws.

Although the new Gen Z activists have focused on issues close to home, sooner or later they may start to look beyond the water’s edge and find themselves in touch with their counterparts across the globe, who are showing every day how dedicated they are to changing the world they live in, with or without anyone’s help. And if they do, they will find that, in its endless wars, America has been the true school shooter on this planet, terrorizing the global classroom with a remarkable lack of consequences.

In March 2018, according to Human Rights Watch, American planes bombed a school that housed displaced people in Syria, killing dozens of them, including children. Similarly, in Yemen that August, a Saudi plane, using a Pentagon-supplied laser-guided bomb, blew away a school bus, killing 40 schoolchildren. Just as at home, it’s not only about the weaponry like those planes or drones. Activists will find that they have to focus their attention as well on the root causes of such violence and the scars they leave behind in the communities of survivors.

More tolerant, more diverse, less trustful of major institutions and less inclined to believe in American exceptionalism than any generation before them, Generation Z may be primed to care about what their country is doing in their name from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen to Libya. But first they have to know it’s happening.

Allegra Harpootlian is a media associate at ReThink Media, where she works with leading experts and organizations at the intersection of national security, politics, and the media. She principally focuses on U.S. drone policies and related use-of-force issues. She is also a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. Find her on Twitter @ally_harp.

This article originally run on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

Publicized Cruelty: Scott Morrison Visits Christmas Island

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:48

His visit struck a sour note.  The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was making an effort to show he cared: about those intangible things called borders, secure firm and shut to the unwanted human matter coming by sea.  The distant Australian territory of Christmas Island was selected to assist in coping with arrivals from Manus and Nauru Island needing medical treatment.  Having lost the vote in parliament on preventing the move, the Morrison government has does its best to ensure that a cruel element remains.

During the visit, Morrison rationalised the re-opening as the fault of the opposition. “As Prime Minister, I closed the Christmas Island detention centre and got all the children off Nauru.”  The Labor Party had “voted to weaken our borders and we have acted on official advice to reopen Christmas Island.”  The facilities provided “a deterrent to people smugglers and to anyone who thinks they can game the system to get to Australia.” The mythology persists.

There are parallels with atrocity and jail tourism (fancy seeing concentration camps?) in a man being filmed going through such facilities, though this time, they are intended for full use rather than being a site for instructive purposes or moral outrage.  Should Australians ever wake up to the full implications of what their government does in their name, such camps might become appropriate measures of a gulag mentality that paralysed any sensible discourse on refugees for a generation.

Being a man obsessed by the moving image (once and adman always an adman), Morrison ensured that cameras never left their focus; the prime minister was keen to push the credentials of the North West Point Detention Centre.  He made a pit stop at a library.  (Cue necessary movement of arms to bookshelves; expansive hand movements).  He even found himself gazing at a lavatory.  “It was short,” recalled a disgusted resident, John Richardson. Small businessman Troy Watson was also a touch bitter. “It’s got be some sort of publicity stunt.”

And stunt it is.  It belies the fact that Australia is facing, under its current Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, a record number of asylum seekers who are entering as tourists and economise on their status.  They simply prefer to do so by that more approved mode of transport: the plane.  As former Department of Immigration official Abul Rizvi points out with sharp relevance, “People arriving on visitor visas and changing their status onshore constituted an astonishing 24 percent of net migration in 2017-8, the mark of a visa system out of control.”  Dutton, he charges, has no genuine immigration or refugee policy to speak of.

The re-conversion of Christmas Island into a detention centre has also provided some encouragement to locals.  With refugee arrivals comes a market, an opportunity to expending cash.  Human cargo can have its value: increased number of personnel, more individuals to clothe and feed on the island, more, for want of a better term, services, however poor.  As Watson had to concede, “The economy on Christmas Island has been low for a good 12 months now, all local businesses including our own have certainly suffered.”

The company providing such services Serco, is a UK-based security outfit that deserves being reviled.  Self-touted as adept in taking over outsourced services, the company specialises in running defence, health, transport, justice and immigration, and “citizen services”.  Forty percent of its work comes from the UK, with about half that share drawn from Australia, where it is involved in some 11 Australian immigration detention centres.

Lodged in the trove of corporate devilry known as the Paradise Papers is an assessment by a Mauritius-based law firm Appleby which regards the company as replete with “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”.  This, it’s fair to say, comes with the troubled territory and again reminds us that privatising the swathe of public sector services does much to drain rather than save the treasury.  It also serves to corrupt the delivery of such services.  Again, deterrence comes before quality; harshness before vision.

The legal firm in question furnishes eager corporate watchers with a spicy note: in 2013, Serco was exposed, along with another charming counterpart, G4S, for overcharging the public purse by millions in the field of electronic tagging.  This delightful resume leads to the inevitable conclusion: the company is a “high risk” client that leaves more problems than solutions.

Despite such a patchy record, the company’s 2017 annual report is bright and confident, though concedes the following: “governments have become much more skilled at contracting and focused on risk-transfer; as a consequence margins and risk-adjusted returns earned by many suppliers to governments are much lower today than they were ten years ago”.  Not to be discouraged, the report picks up with the confident assertion that “the world still needs prisons, will need to manage immigration, and provide healthcare and transport, and that these services will be highly people-intensive for decades to come.”  Crudely and abysmally, the company might just be right, awaiting the commencement of the Christmas Island contract with mawkish eagerness.

Categories: News for progressives

Is AIPAC in Violation of Federal Election Law?

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:45

What newcomer to the US House of Representatives, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mn) may not have fully realized is that her critique of Israel influence on American politics would open a door that has previously been hermetically sealed as the third rail of American politics.

With its influence carefully concealed behind decades of deceptions, lies and ruthless intimidation and representing a mere 2.1% of the population spread across nine states, AIPAC and its supporters are like any schoolyard bully when confronted with a higher ethical authority. They throw down the race card, an archaic accusation of anti-semitism intended to play on a misguided empathy that is no longer effective when confronted with words that speak truth to power.

Rep. Omar first came to our attention during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting with an elegant takedown of convicted felon and neo-con purveyor of brutal atrocities Elliot Abrams who sorely deserved to be humiliated. Abrams is currently President Trump’s point man on plotting future military action in Venezuela.

From there, the controversies around Rep. Omar have whirled with comments purported to be anti-Semitic such as:

It’s all about the Benjamins Baby.”

Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel

Before that uproar had died down, she added

I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. Why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, the fossil fuel industry or Big Pharma and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?”

Bullies in American politics since 1948, the outrage, the denials and the hypocrisy came fast and furious with the usual anti-Semitic card being played and the ‘dual loyalty’ defense as if any one ethnicity or organization is entitled to special accommodating consideration by virtue of ….what exactly?

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fl) responded with a question to Omar that “Jews have dual loyalty and can’t be patriotic members in the country in which they live?”

As an elected Member of the US House of Representatives, Rep. Deutch has an official, legal Constitutional responsibility that his sole and unquestionable loyalty is to the United States. Mr. Deutch’s ‘ the country in which they live’ is dismissive and a less than an overwhelming commitment to the land of one’s birth which happens to be his employer.

Of special concern is whether any AIPAC Congressional supporters possess a security clearance. If so, that clearance, where appropriate, needs to be revoked immediately and if those supporters cannot solely represent the United States with the utmost devotion and independence, they should resign.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathon Greenblatt explained on March 4th that “Sometimes referred to as the dual loyalty charge, it alleges that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens because their true allegiance is to their co-religionists around the world or to a secret and immoral Jewish agenda.”

Mr. Greenblatt takes it even further by contradicting himself in eschewing the dual loyalty meme and then confessing that ‘their true allegiance’ is to another country.

Meanwhile, on March 3rd, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) tweeted that “No member of Congress is asked to swear allegiance to another country. Throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence.”

It is alleged that to raise the issue of dual loyalty is anti-semitic yet both Rep. Deutch and Mr. Greenblatt admit it as all three raised the dual loyalty issue independently as if believing there is an entitlement right to dual loyalty to another country. They do not have that right any more than I have a right to claim dual loyalty to Ireland.

As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, Rep. Omar is not only correct but, in fact, is obliged to act as an elected Member of the House to question the double standard of exactly who is a loyal, true blue American for discussion and debate especially in the context of Article 6 of the United States Constitution known as the Oath Clause:

The Senators and Representatives and the members of several state legislatures

and all executive and judicial officers, both of the US and of the several states

shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution…”

While the Founding Fathers did not specify in Article VI that any elected member of Congress should not ‘be bound…’ to another country, any Court in the land will validate that Constitutional intent was that loyalty ‘be bound by oath or affirmation’ solely to the United States.

According to Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story (1812-1845) that those sworn in were “conscientiously bound to refrain from all acts inconsistent”. During the American Revolution, General George Washington required all officers to subscribe to an oath renouncing any allegiance to King George III and pledging their fidelity to the United States.

In other words, under Article 6 there is no allowance for dual loyalty which would have been considered treasonous in the country’s earliest days and some would consider it treasonous today.

Thankfully, not a shrinking violet when it comes to politics, Rep. Omar responded with “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress.”

In other words, Rep. Omar is confirming that she has been approached to pledge support since AIPAC’s demand that every single Member of Congress sign a loyalty statement to Israel has been privately reported and is common knowledge although the MSM pretend to be unaware.

In addition, former Representative Cynthia McKinney who served twelve years in the House of Representatives related her experience with the pro-Israel lobby when she supported the Palestinian people, refused to support military policy as it would benefit Israel or sign the AIPAC loyalty pledge. Instead, her Congressional District boundaries were realigned and she earned a primary opponent who ultimately defeated her.

AIPAC’s stated purpose is to lobby Congress on issues and legislation related to Israel but that they ‘do not rate or endorse candidates for election or appointed office or directly contribute’ to a campaign. Who do they think they are kidding? AIPAC dodges registering with the FEC by the use of shell organizations and by requiring its members to join its Congressional Club and donate to the campaigns of certain members of Congress in order to receive exclusive membership benefits. They also annually sponsor free round trip visits to Israel for Members of Congress otherwise known as junkets.

It is a curiosity that AIPAC, the American Israel Political Affairs Committee alleges that it is not a political action committee even as it provided $3.5 million in campaign contributions in 2018. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AIPAC has not registered its financial activities with the Federal Election Commission as if they have special entitlement.

The backstory is that in 1990, a unanimous FEC decision cleared AIPAC from charges of coordinating campaign contributions with 27 other pro-Israel PACs since acting in collusion is barred by Federal law. Despite ‘similarities in campaign contributions’ and an overlap of membership and shared officers, FEC General Counsel Lawrence Noble reached a finding of ‘insufficient evidence’ to require AIPAC to adhere to US election law.

To date, AIPAC is not registered with the FEC as a Political Action Committee nor is it registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent representing the interests of a foreign country.

Categories: News for progressives



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